It's Finelight time again. For those who've been living under a rock for the past two years, the story goes like this:
Finelight, a local marketing and real-estate firm, wanted to purchase some land downtown. As all such ventures go, it also wanted the public to make an investment in that land, indirectly in the form of an adjacent parking garage.
RELATED STORY: Good bye, medical marketers
To that end, Finelight execs hired Bloomington's previous mayor, John Fernandez, to help guide them through the city bureaucracy, to get them their garage. It looked, as it always does, like a slam-dunk.
That is, until the ever-imperial Fernandez blew it with a public-relations nightmare. He summarily ejected from Finelight's new property a long-rooted community institution, Ladyman's diner, abruptly and remorselessly - a month short of their 50th birthday.
Needless to say, this didn't go over well. Politically it morphed overnight from a "win-win" public-private partnership into a Bambi-meets-Godzilla nightmare. Worse, it looked like Godzilla had Leviathan (city government) in its corner.
Mayor Mark Kruzan tried to salvage the deal by commissioning a parking study, which everyone expected to say what parking studies always say, namely: "You need to build the garage (wink-wink)." At the same time, a local group called Bloomington Transportation Options for People (BTOP) was walking around counting all the empty spaces in the existing garages.
And they said there were lots. And lots.
Which is also, in a bombshell that no one expected, what the commissioned, "professional" parking study said. The mayor told the consultants "Wrong answer" and sent the study back.
The paid consultants, amazingly, said it again. They said the same thing the BTOP folks did: There's no need, now, to build more parking garages. And at that point all political cover for building Finelight's parking garage, at public expense, evaporated.
Finelight subsequently announced that it would take its football and go home - meaning move into the shitty ex-Teletron building on the city's shitty west side, instead of downtown. Take that, Mr. Mayor! Take that, stupid parking "consultants"!
And all this week Finelight continued destroying whatever goodwill it had remaining by adopting a public posture that alternated between petulance and menace.
Public, private, profane
Back in the 1980s, as the Reagan administration and state governments shifted dollars away from domestic support and into other areas, local governments scrambled to find alternate ways of financing urban redevelopment.
Along with a lack of money was discovered a lack of execution. Local governments were subject to the political considerations of multiple factions, all competing for slices of a shrinking pie. The result was government that moved at the speed of government, not, as UPS says, at the speed of business.
The solution was in the creation of county and city redevelopment commissions, which Indiana did in 1986. The redevelopment commissions were granted immense powers (see section 36-7-14-12.2 of the Indiana Code), including the power to take land by eminent domain, to borrow money for capital projects and to hire staff, consultants and contractors to build on the land taken, using the money borrowed.
In addition to those, redevelopment commissions have three special powers:
a) They consist of appointed, not elected, individuals. They are immune to the types of political considerations that an elected mayor, or city councilperson, has to face.
b) They are a unicameral body. They are both executive, like the mayor, and fiscal, like the City Council. They do not have to concern themselves with the checks and balances of ordinary, ponderous government. They can move public policy at the speed of private business, free of political considerations. Free of political pressure. Free to "git 'er done."
c) They have the power to designate literal economic fiefdoms. Through a procedure called Tax Increment Financing (TIF), they can designate large geographic expanses of land on which property taxes collected, and the building of infrastructure, is removed from the control of elected officials and placed in the control of the redevelopment commission.
The results have been impressive. Indiana is fourth in the nation in amount of land under the control of redevelopment commissions, not under the control of elected government.
Much new greenfield suburban development in Indiana is taking place in TIF areas, as redevelopment commissions borrow millions to enhance the value of private land, and the resulting tsunami of sprawl radiates outwards, a shock wave converting greenfields to shopping malls.
We do it all the time here in Monroe County, having created a TIF for the Crider & Crider construction company, and committed to borrowing heavily to build the roads and sewers for the land.
Recently, the redevelopment commission went to borrow $5 million to build a "Life Sciences" facility for west-side corporations. The whole process took less than three months from idea to done deal, never once having to go to an elected body for consideration.
They just got 'er done.
Moving at the speed of business
Contrast that with the Finelight project, in which a similar proposal (build a $5 million public building for the benefit of private industry) has taken not three months, but three years.
Which asks the question: Why has whoever chaperoned Finelight through City Hall taken them on the disastrous path they've gone? Why not simply have taken the parking-lot proposal directly to the Bloomington Redevelopment Commission and have it build the damn thing for Finelight?
No pesky mayor with his finger in the political wind. No pesky City Council doing the same thing. Just five guys, in a secret room, with absolute power and an immense checkbook.
It seems the only answer is that Finelight has gotten very bad counsel from those it employed to help it. I can help them with that.
In fact, I think I just did.
Gregory Travis can be reached at .