Friday, March 07, 2003

A Convert To The Dark Side?

The Memphis Flyer can usually be counted on for brief cursory stabs at journalism. They joined the Association of Alternative Weeklies which required of them a certain level of straight reporting and local journalism which in their case are marked by fast phone calls, a ladle of opinion and facts obtained elsewhere. A lot of their stuff also comes from elsewhere, to fill the gaps.

Their politics have been dependably "alternative" in the Lefty, environmental, "for the people" sense of most Democrats. Their columns tend towards either earnest efforts to promote the writer's agenda or flashy shows of "writerly style" that are long on showing off and short of nearly everything else. They decry things from time to time, except for the stuff that sells, where anything that draws viewers is OK. It's a strange marriage of newspaper, advertising and "New Journalism."

However, it seems that at least one person at the Round Filer is waking up. John Branston has been writing a series of editorials, under the "City Beat" banner, that take a jaundiced view of all the whoop-de-doo over the downtown. He has begun to write about the very cozy relations between developers and elected officials, and the downsides involved.

This week's installment looks at all the tax arrangements and development bodies staking out claims to public money for downtown projects.
In the works for several months, the plan is called a tax increment financing or "TIF" district, encompassing much of downtown from the Wolf River to Crump Boulevard. Some 25 years ago, the CCC started giving subsidies in the form of property tax freezes to -- to date -- approximately 200 downtown projects, from apartment buildings to The Peabody. The idea was that the subsidy would help downtown get back on its feet, at which time developers and property owners would start paying taxes like everyone else.

The older tax freezes are starting to expire. But if the plan goes through, the tax payments won't go into the city or county's general fund. They'll be captured by the TIF district and stay right at home to finance projects on the CCC's $588 million, 30-year wish list, including a land bridge to Mud Island.

What could be controversial about this plan as it makes its way into the public agenda is that downtown has no monopoly on need and blight. Every dollar that goes into the land bridge is a dollar that won't be used to fill a pothole or pay a policeman in Raleigh, Frayser, Whitehaven, or Midtown.
Welcome to the dark side, John. Happy to have you. I hope you don't get "disappeared" from the Flyer any time soon for being so outspoken.

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