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Monday, February 15, 2016

In Janesville, Potential From Developer Attracts The Moocher Club

Here's a local Gazette story from December 2015 that almost got away from me.

It begins as what should have been a nice non-story about a wealthy developer buying several older buildings with river frontage near Janesville's downtown with plans to transform them through major rehabilitation into modern attractive multi-use properties. It's a good positive development, but it's also basic rehab activity that has been going on in cities across America for the past three decades (obviously, 2008-2010 was a major setback), so the concept is not that unusual.

What this particular "rehabber" has working in his advantage is tremendous personal wealth. And you know, that's perfectly okay. Even with that advantage, additional credit must be given to the developer's ability to recognize potential when others don't ...and of course, timing.

But most importantly AND very unusual, this particular developer's plan asks nothing from local government in the way of planning or financial assistance - so far. That's right. That's really good news for Janesville taxpayers and the city budget because as the developer's improved properties assessed values rise, Janesville taxpayers overall tax burden will drop in real time allowing the city's administration to keep up with inflationary pressures without asking for higher taxes or cutting services. Whooweee, I got that out of the way.

But the good developer's independent little project poses a worrisome problem for some. You see, in Janesville, extremely wealthy individuals and politically connected pals including large corporations with hundreds of millions in cash on hand focus more on getting substantial capital hand-outs and other free stuff, usually by way of lucrative TIF deals, from local taxpayers before they commit to Janesville. It's the first commandment from their economic development bible here. Thou shalt not invest in Janesville or create jobs before capturing some free TIF surplus capital, free land or other free stuff. Their second commandment is a warning for local taxpayers: Thou shalt not believe in false hope that growth will come without providing "incentives." You get the idea.

So if you've been paying attention to economic development in Janesville or even in your own hometown, it is deservedly commendable when some good old fashioned private free enterprise developer makes an appearance AND breaks those rules. It's like ...WOW! This is the real deal! So far.

But by far the most entertaining segment of the Gazette's article (almost a third of it), is spent by the newspaper trying to tie the developer's project to Forward Janesville's crony-operated government-dependent tax-boosting downtown revitalization ARISE plan. To my pleasant surprise (and I really mean this - my hat is off to them), the developer has to go out of their way to convince the newspaper that their plan is more a coincidence and not conceived in tandem with ARISE, that they have their own funding, template and vision for success. Oh. My. God.

That ending however doesn't complete the picture for the folks at the newspaper because the Gazette paints private investment without government assistance as "philantrophic" in Janesville. Apparently, the Gazette seems miffed, almost upstaged that someone would buy such unlikely properties and "sink" their own money into them without government incentives.

And that's the problem this developer unwittingly posed for well-connected tax-jacking political cronies at Forward Janesville and their power tools at city hall. With a potential for rising assessment values and more revenue from this developer's downtown properties falling into the hands of the starving-for-dollars general fund Janesville tax base, Forward Janesville and their minions unabashedly propose a giant TIF District to capture those new tax dollars for their ARISE gimmick BEFORE anything stupid else happens.

Stay tuned as that next story unfolds in the coming months.

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