Friday News Digest [@ Strong Towns]
Thanks Chuck for letting me do the Friday News Digest. I’ve always loved this feature and I’m honored to take it over this week! – Nate
Now, to the week’s news … [check it out over at Strong Towns]
- The Field of Dreams: If you build it, they will come?
You remember the 1989 classic, right? Kevin Costner builds a baseball diamond amidst endless acres of corn. It was a great movie that helped put Dyersville, Iowa on the regional tourist map. There was something absurd and impractical about building a baseball field in a corn field, but absurd in a fun, quaint way.
That’s likely to change. A group of investors is looking to turn the site into the nation’s largest youth sports complex.
“The goal of Go the Distance is to redevelop the site into All-Star Ballpark Heaven — a youth sports tourney complex that will bring 12 fields and 60 clubhouses to the middle of rural northeast Iowa and nearby Dubuque.” – Des Moines Register [Jan 1., 2013]
This is insane! But, what makes it more insane is that the State of Iowa is pitching in $16.5 million in tax incentives to make it happen. Dyersville is tossing in another $5.1 million in tax breaks. Supposedly it’ll create 1,000 plus jobs in a town of 4,000 people. Here’s the plan:
This is a classic example of a town gambling on growth. Does anyone really think that summer youth baseball tournaments are going to bring in a windfall of cash?
Anyone who voted to use public dollars to fund this thing needs to have their head examined. The infrastructure required to build a large complex miles outside of town will simply never pay for itself. That, and youth baseball isn’t exactly a high-margin growth industry. I’ll try to be brief but the logistics of making this work seem impractical. The actual ‘Field of Dreams’ feel is only possible during peak corn growing season, right? Meaning, it’s likely you’ll be playing baseball while surrounded by mud and ankle-high stalks for a majority of the 17 week baseball season (oh, that’s why they’re building the indoor training dome).
If you said, “Give it to one of the world’s most profitable hospitals”, then you’re on the same page as our Governor here in Minnesota. Here’s what the Pioneer Press reported:
“The Mayo Clinic is seeking more than $500 million in state support for economic development projects in the medical center’s hometown of Rochester — a deal that clinic officials say would guarantee the world-famous clinic stays and grows in Minnesota. … … Gov. Mark Dayton, who recently underwent back surgery at Mayo, said during the announcement that he supports the plan, adding that bond support might cost the state about $30 million per year.” - Pioneer Press [Jan. 30, 2013]
The Mayo Clinic is a world famous non-profit hospital that has annual profits of over $600 million. I used to go to a Mayo Clinic branch. They’re great and I have only positive things to say about them. They certainly help Rochester (their home base – and another small city that I do genuinely like). But, if you’re expansion is dependent on $500 million in state aid, then it’s not sustainable. Sorry Mayo.
Officials are forecasting 25,000 to 30,000 new jobs as a result. These numbers make the Field of Dreams numbers seem tame. Who are these economic development consultants? Who is doing this math? If we build this one development, the town will add jobs that are the equivalent of 1/4 the population of the town?
- Cities with the crummiest winter weather (but no Minneapolis?)
Los Angeles makes the list, because apparently the roads are more bumpy during January. So, two days ago it was 7*f and everywhere was like walking on a freshly-Zamboni’ed ice rink. But, those LA winters are rough. I was there in January once and it got down to the lower 60s …
- Three ways to improve walkability without touching the street
One of my favorite bloggers, Bill Lindeke, had a great post at Streets.MN about how to improve walkability without doing any expensive redesigns. All of them involve easy-to-use technologies that already exist (which is a plus): Add red light cameras, no turn on red and actually go the distance and ban cell phones in cars.
- What ever happened to Agendas 1 thru 20?
The new Strong Towns podcast covers the topic of Agenda 21 (it’s good, by the way). Two things have confused me about Agenda 21′ers -
- I have always wondered why the far right always criticized the United Nations for being an incompetent, do-nothing, powerless shill of an organization; but when it comes to Agenda 21, well, then you better watch out! If the UN was such a ineffectual group, why would we believe otherwise for one of their 20 plus year old policies?
- In my mind, creating good places was never about taking away freedom – it was about giving MORE freedom. The freedom to build downtown without being hindered by parking requirements. The freedom to mix uses. The freedom to walk places on sidewalks along a street that moves traffic slowly to a neighborhood cafe, where I can then sit outside and drink a coffee. The problem that the free market faces is not that it’s being forced to build sustainable, denser, urban settlements – it’s that the free market wants to build sustainable, denser, traditional-style buildings and they legally can’t.
- Planning! [coming to a British television set near you]
“A new documentary series on the BBC captures the scintillating stories of the planning world by following the work of Council Planning Officers across the UK.” - Planetizen
If it’s 1/10 as good as Homeland, then I’m sold. Of course, I’m not sure the life of a government planner is all that interesting?
- The Restless Urbanist’s “The Worst Things to Say During a Public Meeting”
My top 3 …
- We master planned your entire community in just one day
- We have hired a world famous consultant to solve all our problems: Translation, We hired an expensive consultant to deal with you
- We are required by (any government agency) to hold this meeting
- Death of a Big Box / Goodbye, Best Buy
Best Buy is struggling! It’s hard to imagine Best Buy competing in today’s (and tomorrow’s) marketplace. It seems to be a combination of an out-dated big box business model, slow adaption to changing market forces and short-sighted leadership. It seems like only yesterday that the City of Richfield was using eminent domain and tax incentives to lure Best Buy from a neighboring suburb [read about it here]- Also – see how half of the site is a parking garage! It’s hard to imagine this building being re-used.
I once heard somebody say that you should start shorting a company’s stock when they start building a new corporate HQ. Best Buy moved into their new digs between 2004 and 2005. That’s about when their stock peaked and it’s been downhill since. And, while I certainly don’t want anyone to lose their job – it’s hard to feel sorry for a company that does this …
Thanks to @kentslundberg out of New Zealand for sending this. By the way – I’m sure Strong Towns would love to visit New Zealand. Got any openings for a Curbside Chat?
Thanks everyone! Have a great Friday. -Nate