What do you think?
Would you vote to invest city tax dollar$?
Please add your comments below.
I don’t envy the council’s decision. It's a hot political topic. I’ve already received a surprising number of private emails and comments from neighbors strongly opposed to the TIF. I’ve only had a couple in emails in support. The opposition’s comments have included:
• “We should not pay for more retail. We don’t need it.”
• “Give a TIF to Main Street. They need it more.”
• “They [developers] didn’t say they wanted a TIF last year. Why now?”
• “Invest city taxes for a Burlington Coat Factory? No way!”
• “No more bailouts, bulldoze the mall and build a park.”
I’ve been wondering why so many Laurelites are opposed to the TIF. Why are there such strong emotions?
It might be a reaction to the bad economy and the billions in bailouts for banks and automobile companies. But this can’t be the reason because the anti-TIF drumbeat started long before the economy tanked.
Then, thinking back over the Laurel Mall story, I began to see that some of this opposition might be the result of how the rebuilding story was told. We tell ourselves all kinds of stories. Sometimes the story matches reality and sometimes it doesn’t.
When I start a round of golf with a shiny new driver, I tell myself a story that I’m going to shoot like Tiger Woods. Usually by the third tee I realize I’ve got the same clumsy game as before. It’s a shiny new driver but it’s the same old, fat, bald guy swinging the damn thing. I think that might be what’s causing the strong opposition to the Laurel Commons TIF. We bought the dream but then reality kicked in at the exact same time the TIF was mentioned. Of course we are feeling disappointed.
You have got to hand it to the Laurel Commons developers. They really pumped up the original story. Expectations were sky high after those early focus groups. We swooned over the dream of a reborn mall with historically accurate mill art, classy fabric swatches, and even an ice skating ring.
These story tellers were slick. Maybe too slick as everyone realized we were only getting common stores and the promise of a couple of restaurants and a new multiplex theatre. After buying the early story about a shining cathedral to retail consumerism, we woke up to realize that we are simply rebuilding a shopping center. It's really not Tiger Woods. It’s just the same old, fat, Wilson, but now he has a new toupee and wants the city to pay him $14 million for playing.
You need to sit in the dark to appreciate the light.
You need to fear the nightmare of hell to accept the dream of heaven.
Why do so many people oppose the TIF for Laurel Commons? Let me offer the following explanation for your consideration.
We sold the dream without first selling the nightmare of a failed mall. I think that we, all of us, city leaders, mall developers and even this bloviating blogger failed to fully explain the true cost of a failed mall.
• The Laurel mall was dead 8 years ago, and this was during the boom.
• What would have happened if the developers passed on the Laurel Commons project?
• How long would the mall have survived in today’s economy? It would have gone from death spiral to flat line. Tax revenues would have dropped to near zero.
• The downside of a dead mall is almost insurmountable for a town our size. We can’t absorb the loss.
• How many of you remember the dead Rockville mall? It decomposed for over two decades, not only generating zero tax revenue, but its blight was dragging down surrounding property values.
• The city wins when the Laurel Commons succeeds. We get 40% of the success. If we don't stop the bleeding, we will get 100% of almost zero.
• The tax revenue prediction with a derelict Laurel Mall in 2015 makes the city’s revenue split in the same year with a TIF look fantastic in comparison.
I support the TIF. We must save the mall property from its death spiral. The TIF combines a little bit of city money with a lot of other people’s money to keep the mall from certain death. We won’t get a Columbia Mall but we will get a refreshed mall that will be viable for decades. I would have paid a 40% TIF just to get a new movie theatre.
I encourage the Laurel City Council to approve a TIF for the Laurel Commons project.
There is nothing more important than a story to help us learn new things—or to appreciate common things in uncommon ways.
Getting the story right is one of the most difficult skills to master in business, politics, or life. I've learned to appreciate the mastery attained by the early Christian writers. They told their story and it included both heaven and hell. They got their story right and it has served to both define and renew us for over 2000 years.