Commentary: Commentary: Kudos to Mayor Ken Miyagishima and Councilor Gill Sorg on their handling of the proposed Royal Crossings development proposal at the old Las Cruces Country Club site.
Project owners withdrew their proposal to divert $243 million in future tax revenues to pay for development costs amidst a flurry of questions from the Mayor and Councilor Sorg. The announcement came just hours prior to a scheduled city workshop to further examine proposal details.
Developer complaints about community opposition, and insinuations that Mayor Miyagishima somehow lied to them during the project review process, are a clumsy attempt to deflect attention from obvious flaws in their subsidy proposal. When elected officials respond to community concerns and ask questions about earmarking hundreds of millions in future tax revenues to pay a privately owned project’s expenses, they are not persecuting anyone. They’re doing their job.
I hope that in the coming months Royal Crossings’ owners will recognize that Las Cruces is actually rooting for them. Most everyone supports successful community-oriented development at the old Country Club. This development group has the resources and expertise to get it done. Local government will be open to sound proposals that help ensure that happens, but we shouldn’t give away the store.
Responsibility for the outrageous subsidy proposal getting as far as it did lies squarely at the feet of Las Cruces Economic Development staff. They negotiated the deal and followed up by presenting confusing, misleading and incomplete explanations of project financing to City Council. No one could figure out what the bill to taxpayers would turn out to be. A few straightforward charts from an existing independent study would have made the situation abundantly clear. But that independent study was buried.
Public financing for the Royal Crossings project was to come via a Tax Increment Development District, or TIDD. There is no indication the Economic Development Department consulted other New Mexico cities about lessons learned from their privately owned TIDD projects. There was no explanation that after 50 years of experience nationwide, the purported economic benefits of even the most successful private developer TIDD projects are hotly debated and why. The developer’s shamelessly optimistic job creation assumptions went unchallenged.
Economic Development staff did not provide City Council the kind of early heads up about Royal Crossings such a large public expenditure requires. Instead, it was dumped in front of them with a short and artificial deadline, and blind faith in the nonsensical delusion that TIDD money is free.
This all was a stark contrast with Dona Ana County staff. When presented with the Royal Crossings proposal negotiated by the city, they promptly identified blatant problems with the underlying economic assumptions and informed the County Commission. Kudos to them.
City Economic Development staff was quick to promote the undeniably positive features of the built Royal Crossings project, and just as quick to obscure the true cost to the public. The public, the mayor, and city council deserve better. We need staff that provides complete information and objective analysis. We don’t need mindless project cheerleaders.
I hear catcalls ringing from the rafters.