Sunday, April 25, 2004

Deceptive Practice

One part of the "Promenade package" in today's Commercial Appeal is a guest column from Wayne Ratkovich. He is president of a development company and affiliated with the Urban Land Institute. It's easy to simply take his credentials without thought, "Hmmm...some people-oriented think tank." But do take a look.

While reading his column, I kept being struck by the developer language in his writing.
We imagined many possibilities for the properties along the promenade. Its gateway would be at Front and Union, where a Memphis Fire Department station is now located. We saw this spot as the location for a great gathering place, a civic "family room" filled with specialty shops, cafes, coffee houses, bars and restaurants.

The real estate industry term for such a combination of uses is "festival retail." Faneuil Hall in Boston, Harborplace in Baltimore and Farmer's Market in Los Angeles are among the country's more successful models....

We gave a very high rating to the promenade as a location for dense (high-rise) development of residential, office, hotel and retail uses. Four factors - location, demand, supply and timing - were considered in determining the rating.

The promenade scored well as a location for all the land-use categories we considered. Near-perfect overall scores were recorded for residential uses and for certain retail uses - suggesting that development for those uses can proceed now, while other uses, such as offices, should wait until demand increases. In looking long-term, it is reasonable to imagine a time when market conditions will produce high ratings for all uses.

Development of the promenade may require the City of Memphis to use its condemnation powers. Nearly 50 years ago, Congress gave cities the right to condemn privately owned property and sell it to another private party so long as a community benefit was realized.
So, go and take a look at the ULI website. It's a well-regarded organisation for developers, builders and contractors. Take a look at the books they sell. Would he support a plan to turn over 40% of previously unavailable land to developers, builders and contractors? Do wolves like raw meat?

Asking this guy to comment on the RDC plan, even though he was a part of the group that evaluated it, is a bit like asking the wolf to comment on the menu at the pigs' house. These folks view empty land as wasted land, as opportunities lost.

It would have been better to balance this column with someone from a group oriented to non-developmental ways of using the land. As it stands, he's just another "yes man" to the Commercial Appeal's drive to disestablish the Promenade as a public property.

Having said that, Ratkovich offers some ideas that really need to be looked at:
We even stepped a bit outside of our assigned territory to comment on ways in which the revitalization of downtown could be connected to Memphis's riverfront. We suggested reinstating automobile traffic on Main Street, a return to two-way traffic on downtown streets and a new look at the downtown parking plan. The manner in which parking is provided dramatically affects the quality of the human environment in urban areas.
As anyone who has gone downtown knows, parking is a joke, woefully underprovided. The RDC plan for the Promenade promises to replace the current parking spaces with 1000 spots; they do not tell you how many will be lost, but I suspect it's quite a few. On top of this, the RDC Promenade plan will add a lot of office and retail space that will require additional parking, not to mention the additional tourists and visitors the plan will draw in.

Where, pray tell, will these people park? City leaders and civic planners obviously expect folks to park out on the periphery of the downtown, in the many lots and garages out there, and take our spectacular trolley system into the downtown and then walk, walk, walk around. Would you do that, here or in another city? Exactly.

No comments: