Chiming in on civic booster projects

PHOTO BY CT-Sent as WAGNER MUG 11-27.



I have become concerned lately that I have been too critical of many of the civic booster projects and do not want to descend into becoming a “nattering nabob of negativism”– not on my watch.

There are number of things I encourage. For instance, I fully support the idea of community funding for Colorado Mesa University to research and develop a 10-calorie chocolate doughnut — with icing.

Better mousetraps be darned, a development like that in the multinational pastry industry will cause the world to beat a path to our door. But Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem conventions will shun us.

Therefore, I thought it better to try to offer helpful advice on some of the projects of recent controversy.

Most of the recent ventures proposed or on the ballot are not seen as feasible to the majority of the public called upon to pay for and patronize them. Nevertheless these projects appear viable to elected officials and those with abnormally hopeful dispositions, when in fact they are, for the time being, deceased.

Their lifeblood — public support — is drained away or never existed.

Stubbornly trying to move forward on projects which have passed on is the reflexive action of government and bureaucracies finding themselves mounted upon a lifeless idea. In other words — a dead horse.

Some lifeless public equines leap to mind, such as an enormously expensive event center, providing a municipal internet system and building an overly large outdoor entertainment venue that will be impractical to maintain and unlikely to be filled.

There are metaphors, identified by an anonymous source circulating in the business community for many years, as examples of mistakes made in refusing to move on from on a dead-horse project.

■ Appointing a committee to study the dead horse.

■ Visiting other areas to see if they know how to ride dead horses.

■ Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse so it can be successful (this is for your benefit Two Rivers).

■ Harnessing several dead horses together to increase speed and efficiency.

■ Promoting the owner of the dead horse to a supervisory position.

In one form or another all of these things have been tried by local government to resurrect schemes the majority of the public have decided against.

A main cause of resistance by the public to taxes and debt is fatigue, public officials and hopeful but starry eyed boosters pester and hector them night and day with schemes, each more ambitious than the last — all proposing a new direction for the community.

Many I have spoken to are concerned about the spinning compass directions to which these projects point — entertainment hub, outdoor recreation center, high-tech magnet or educational symposium.

Not necessarily exclusive goals, just too many to do any of them well.

Advice on this front is simple. Have a real plan — not the endless master plans we see jetted out from consultant meetings and retreats, whose goals are so airy they practically float to the ceiling and stick to it — all without a benchmark to determine success or the need for a change in direction.

Also, answer why do so many projects involve empty buildings and waiting seats. What plan is there to fill them and has it succeeded other places? Because what seems to be lacking is demand.

People build something larger when what they have is full, not when what they have is empty.

I have yet to hear anything from an established promoter discussing the genuine probability of booking performances into any of the new venues. Instead we have predictions from staff and consultants, who in the main have never made a living from entertainment.

The last bit of advice is to actually look forward to things that could change the configuration of the contraptions proposed. High-speed internet through fiber-optic cable as an example is another highly promoted and sought after municipal project which is already starting to look like yesterday’s technology.

This week, Google continues Project Loon, developing high altitude geosynchronous balloons to deliver high-speed 4G type internet service without stringing wires, cables or fiber or digging expensive holes in the ground to bury aging technology.

If we’re going to choose technology as a goal, let’s make sure we don’t end up being a DVD in a streaming world.

Rick Wagner is a Grand Junction attorney who maintains a political blog, The War on Wrong. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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