April 7, 2020

Too Much and Not Enough

By Stephen Tuttle | Jan. 27, 2018


A $3 million farmers market. Wow. 

Traverse City's Downtown Development Authority (DDA) has a wish list a mile long and a steady income of taxpayer money. They're safely ensconced a full step away from voter scrutiny so they get to think bigger than those directly accountable. Their latest fantasy is an “improvement” to the Sarah Hardy Farmers Market. They might be pushing their luck this time.

Downtown Development Authorities were created in the 1970s as a vehicle to help rehabilitate blighted downtown areas and restore and increase property values. They receive money from tax increment financing and a little piece of almost everybody's millage success.  

They did a fine job in Traverse City and in many other places. The blight disappeared, but the DDAs are now here to stay, their own fiefdoms fully established. What were once critical infrastructure and business development needs are now mostly a DDA wish list.

The latest is a multi-million dollar farmers market, an entity they already run. Now the Traverse City DDA would like to expand and improve its market, which is ironically located in a parking lot (the DDA also runs Traverse City's parking operations), on land that is actually zoned to be a park.  

Farmer's markets used to be a place where local growers assembled, set up tables or booths, and sold their produce to willing customers: Simple, cheap, effective, and way too easy.

Now we must create an extravaganza.

The Traverse City version will be a marvel, with permanent open-sided sheds, bathrooms, an indoor kitchen and, hey, let's add $700,000 on top of the $3 million for a new pedestrian bridge because the current structurally sound and perfectly usable pedestrian bridge isn't sufficiently aesthetically pleasing. 

That would be $3.7 million total. That's almost $1 million more than Traverse City pays annually for its fire department and nearly as much as it pays for its police department. Different pots of money, to be sure, but it does paint a picture of how grandiose the DDA's suggestion really is. 

The DDA expects the new market will be financed by private donations, plus $400,000 it already has committed, some as yet undetermined money from the city, and lots and lots of grants. As everybody knows, those grants are free money that sprouts every spring after gentle, warm rains.

The DDA's new executive director, Jean Derenzy, has been involved in just about everything Traverse City-related, sat on every board and commission, and is currently helping out Grand Traverse County as the board searches for its third County Administrator in about six months. She knows as much as anybody about what the city actually needs in terms of development assistance. It would be nice if she steered the DDA back in that direction and away from something like a multimillion-dollar farmer's market.

But while the DDA is proposing way too much, our elected public servants in Washington are accomplishing way too little.   

Congress, practically dislocating their shoulders from self-congratulatory back-patting, has managed to keep the government running for another three weeks. Yippee. It's incomprehensible they were barely able to do that. It's entirely possible 100 people selected off the street at random, or maybe some bright pets, would be an improvement.  

Leadership from the White House hasn't been any better. President Trump has espoused so many different positions on immigration, it's impossible to know where he'll alight from hour to hour. That's if he's not busy with his Twitter-insult-of-the-day, a bizarre habit that clouds anything he does accomplish. (The impact extends beyond our shores. A recent Gallup International survey found that the United states is no longer considered the leader of the free world; it's now Germany.) 

Like all presidential candidates, Trump made lots of promises we knew he couldn't keep. But his strategy has always been to continue repeating the absurd and hope we won't notice. His legislative agenda was no exception.

A year ago last week, the president said he would introduce a blizzard of legislation, all of which he claimed would be passed within one year. Or even just in 100 days. He was already late on his campaign promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) on his first day in office, but he included it on the list anyway.

Here's the legislation he said would be introduced and Congress would pass, believe me:

Middle Class Tax Relief and Simplification Act, End Offshoring Jobs and Money Act, American Energy and Infrastructure Act, School Choice and Education Opportunity Act, Repeal and Replace Obamacare Act, Affordable Childcare and Eldercare Act, End Illegal Immigration Act, Restoring Community Safety Act, Restoring National Security Act and, everyone's favorite, the Clean Up Corruption in Washington, D.C. Act.

One out of 10 isn't so good. Congress isn't any better. The Traverse City DDA is overreaching but at least it’s doing something.  












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