consultants are sandburs

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Anoka County Regional Rail Authority: Thick skull bones? Flat learning curve? Say it ain't so, Joe. What's needed are Ryan Cronk and Darren Lazan and monthly payments to round out the usual ways with the usual suspects.

David Flaherty with his hand out.

Peter Bodley reporting here for ABC Newspapers on what some might regard as deja vu, all over again. This excerpt:

Only one response for Riverdale project
By Peter Bodley -- November 25, 2014 at 8:02 am

Only one response was received by the Anoka County Regional Rail Authority from request for qualifications sent to 18 developers in an effort to sell and develop 15.9 acres of vacant land it owns adjacent to the Riverdale Northstar Commuter Rail station in Coon Rapids.

[... The] lone response to the RFQ from Sand Development, LLC proposed a 50-unit, 100 percent rent and income restricted apartment building on 2.5 acres of the site. It offered to pay the rail authority $375,000 for the site, but requested tax increment financing assistance. [...] In addition, the tax increment financing assistance sought by Sand was more than it was willing to pay for the land, according to County Commissioner Scott Schulte [...] “We were disappointed by the lack of response,” Schulte said.

[...] According to Schulte, the next step is for rail authority staff along with Ehlers & Associates, the consulting firm hired by the rail authority to work on the project, to contact one of the developers the task force had previously spoken with and had provided some drawings prior to the RFQ to see if it would be interested in developing a project in partnership with the city and rail authority.

The developer that has been chosen is Flaherty and Collins, [...]

According to Look, the council members on the task force were “taken aback by the quality of the project” and thought it would be a good fit for Riverdale.

[...] “But wanting it and being able to afford it are two different things,” Look said.

According to Look, the council members on the task force were “taken aback by the quality of the project” and thought it would be a good fit for Riverdale.

“But wanting it and being able to afford it are two different things,” Look said.

Look is not certain how interested Flaherty and Collins will be developing the Riverdale site because it currently has three projects under way and is courting two other cities in which to locate developments, he said.

Another issue that would have to be addressed with any project is the subsidy that would be sought – whether from the city in the form of tax increment financing or from the rail authority in writing down the land cost for the developer to buy the property, acording to Look.

He doubted the rail authority would be willing to write down the cost of the land from what was paid to purchase it, Look said.

The rail authority paid $2.3 million for the vacant land in 2003.

Yeah. I was kind of "taken aback" by that Flaherty stuff in Town Center too. Flaherty hiring choices and all.

And what about that bit about Ehlers advising and Flaherty being allowed frontrunner status before the RFQ was circulated? That's downright raw, is what it is. I am "taken aback" by the audacity of such frontrunning abuse of what should be a fair, open and unbiased bidding process. (Like what, pick your date in advance and then pose as if independently arriving at the dance?)

Readers are urged to read the entire online report Bodley authored.

Note, red highlighting added to the Bodley item in order to denote usual suspects (amid some usual econometric brainstorms, deeds, and M.O.). Ramsey people should remember in 2009 when Look and colleagues bought the foreclosed destressed Town Center vacant land from bank foreclosure - for millions of town dollars. Same old deja vu ... Public dollars, bitcoins, whatever was/will be spent -- it is NOT real money from the perps own pockets, (where prudence is a first and last concern). Schulte is a new name, but with the saga the same. Build the Indianapolis mavens big free prime parking ramp space, and like Field of Dreams, they might with much delay and subsidy, come. At least the Rail Authority bought in 2003 and not after the market went splat as with Look in Ramsey (note that the 2003 purchase was before Look had any clear hand in county board dealings while the Ramsey raw land purchase deal, and the instigation of Flaherty/Cronk/Lazan dealings began while Look was influential with mayor Bob Ramsey and others then on Ramsey's council. Minutes from back then show Judge Dehan, who was then on council, being concerned about fair bidding norms.)

While expressing above some immediate thoughts, in fairness it needs to be said that short term at least, the Flaherty town center rental housing is being rented out. The market demand for rental housing in the metro area has made it so. In the long term, as Keynes said, we're all dead; and beyond that the ultimate writing of the Flaherty thing as good or not so good for Ramsey will need to happen after I will no longer be alive to read it. So, short term, I have to concede the idea was timely if not eternally sound. And people will always need places to live.

If the county and the rail authority work something out with Flaherty, one hope would be Cronk and Lazan are absent from the situation, but others may feel they were instrumental in the Flaherty rental happening rather than being one more deal that flipped. The market was bad throughout the period Lazan's firm was drawing city money, and that's excuse enough for his not producing more and better, but it is not excuse enough for continuing the payments when it was clear the commensurate productivity was lacking.

If the county and rail authority do cut some deal, and Cronk and Lazan are absent, it would have to be judged on its reasonableness and whether time and patience might have been better; and that, again, is a long term judgment.

And for now, it is all tentative. The chance there might have been Flaherty frontrunning permitted and/or encouraged by officials is troubling, but as of now it has resulted in neither harm nor gain.

The best line of official conduct for now seems to be maintaining patience with the property while trying to answer why no immediate development interest was generated for the land and the development opportunity.

Then, whatever the ultimate development decision may be, it should be subsidy free, unlike the over-generous approach taken with Flaherty with regard to his Town Center effort. It is almost as if the opening image might be used in closing; do not give a subsidy, be patient.

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