Tax Increment Financing has turned Gaston County cities and towns into the real life example of the movie version, “The Music Man”:
A con artist, “Professor” Harold Hill, comes to a small Iowa town in the early 1900s. He convinces the town that it needs a marching band, taking orders for the necessary instruments and uniforms. He also sells music lessons in advance, concealing the fact that he cannot read or play a note of music. In the process Professor Hill galvanizes the town out of its torpor and falls in love with the local librarian/music teacher. The movie is the original setting for “Seventy-Six Trombones” and “Till There Was You.”
We’ve got Trouble… Right here in River City…
An article in the Charlotte Oberserver reports that County manager, Jan Winters has bought into “Big Plan” Jim Palenick’s endorsement of the Big League Dreams program. Where did $23,000 to “study” the project come from? Another tap into the Tourism funds from the hotel/motel tax?
Another trip down the route of issuing municipal bonds without voter approval.
Isn’t “Big Plan” the same guy who questioned the Whitewater Park investment by Gaston area communities? Didn’t Mr. Winters have a dickens of a time dealing with the fallout of the failed Equestrian Center and county finances.
So, what are the differences?
Big League Dreams is a for-profit development firm that primarily builds baseball fields with the target area’s local money, and takes 50% of the profits (if there are any). The project is being sold throughout the United States as a way for cash-strapped communities to have “world class” athletic facilities.
The “target communities” are generally areas that have small parks and recreation budgets — if any at all –, are in areas of unrealized potential — along major highways/transportation corridors, and have attention starved local politicos. Several communities that bought into this project have already had to raise entrance fees — yes, parking/viewing — to meet the for-profit operating budget. Captured events, such as Legion Baseball, the Grizzlies, and any planned event, will have to charge an arm-and-a-leg to meet breakeven points. What guarantees are made by Big League Dreams if the community couldn’t attract major regional or national events?
This particular group is asking — demanding, actually (by the business model) — that the target community do the local site research, commit to the fund the construction, and guarantee the construction loan. Then they operate the facilities, and “split” the profits of the facility. The big kicker is that they MUST be able to sell alcohol in their parks. So in essence, the City (and County) in this scheme, want to get a piece of the alcohol sales and profit off of youth sports.
The passage of the Tax Increment Finance law in 2004, has allowed the traveling saleman to flood North Carolina communities with big visions and bigger ideas. Jim “Big Plan” Palenick and Big League Dreams blew in with this passage.
The US National Whitewater Center is a one-of-a-kind, locally volunteer-driven, non-profit organization. It is a planned out, unique destination place that has not yet been duplicated. Significant private investment was pledged and committed PRIOR to public investment.
The community investment in the USNWC is guaranteed by the public investment of tax dollars, which will be tapped this fiscal year, and probably for the next two consecutive years. Is it a lot of money?
In our opinion, sure, but at the same time it is less than the $18 million proposed for the Baseball fields. It is less than the proposed $12.5 million for downtown Gastonia’s “renovation”. For the USNWC, a total of $2.5 million was invested by the Gaston communities (Gastonia, Belmont, Mt. Holly) in the $35 million project.
Was there, or is there, a payback from the Whitewater Center? This past summer, the first year of operation, over 50% of the staff were from Gaston County. Primarly college students and young adults. Several events attracted a world-wide audience and visitors, many of whom stayed in the Holiday Inn Express at exit #27. The center attracted over 400,000 visitors — yes, free, mostly curiousity visitors, many more than the 300,000 anticipated.
So far, the “Big Plan” Jim Palenick public endorsement tally is over $30 million. We have to ask, what is next ?
This traveling salesman scores bigtime in Gaston County. “Big Plan” also scored in Bay City, Michigan and Rio Rancho, New Mexico prior to blowing into Gastonia.