Saturday, November 22, 2008

LETTER: City worse off due to Gib Armstrong

In response to the article titled, "Too soon to Judge Gib Armstrong's career" which was published on Friday, November 21, 2008:

I beg to differ with some of the conclusions of this article:

"His service to his constituents will ultimately be determined by whether the convention center and the hotel succeed or fail. Thanks in large part to Armstrong's extraordinary efforts and great influence for this mammoth public investment, the very future of the city is at stake."

There can be no doubt that the future of Lancaster City is indeed at stake because of the "mammoth public investment" in the hotel and convention center project. And it is certain that the project would not exist without Sen. Gib Armstrong's "extraordinary efforts": the project itself, as well as most of its financing, would have been illegal without the many changes Sen. Gib Armstrong shepherded into State law.

But will Lancaster City be better off with the hotel and convention center project than it would have been otherwise?

Consider this:

- Nearly one-half city block of the most prime real estate in all of Lancaster County will pay no real estate taxes at all for at least 20 years; the vast majority of this land will never produce tax revenue again. This
means that taxpayers in Lancaster City and the School District of Lancaster are already paying higher taxes than if appropriate government subsidies had resulted in substantial private investment in this block. And there isn't enough underdeveloped space in downtown Lancaster to allow for the creation of enough economic development to produce enough new real estate tax revenue to make up the difference.

- Resources have already been diverted from other areas of Lancaster City to support the hotel and convention center project. Well over two million dollars from the water plant construction bond sale is being used for "streetscape improvements" which are designed to make the stark industrial design of the convention center and massive hotel tower look like they somehow fit into the rest of downtown Lancaster. These "streetscape improvements" include "bulb-outs" and other "traffic calming" measures which are supposed to make streets safer for pedestrians, while slowing already congested traffic and ultimately discouraging people from driving into downtown Lancaster. Police patrols have already been diverted from other parts of Lancaster City to the area around the convention center, in an attempt to "clean up" the neighborhood. And the ultimate cost to taxpayers in unreimbursed municipal services for an operating government-owned convention center is yet to be determined.

It really doesn't matter how "successful" promoters of the hotel and convention center project say it is. Far fewer taxpayer dollars could have resulted in far greater results, had this money been spent in a way that encouraged private investment. Instead, we will be forever stuck with a project that supporters claim will create 150 to 250 jobs, at a direct cost to taxpayers of over one-half million to nealy a million dollars EACH - plus an ongoing taxpayer subsidy of well over a million dollars every year.

Thanks to Sen. Gib Armstrong, Lancaster City will never be the great place to live, work, and visit that it might have been.