Friday, August 15, 2008

And now the politicians will fall in line

The Blade has spoken: don't demolish the United Way building. Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has dutifuly picked up the cry. It was only a matter of time before Commissioner Ben Konop solidified his 'golden boy' status by joining the chorus.

Sadly, instead of laughing at their colleague's pandering, fellow Commissioners Tina Skeldon Wozniak and Pete Gerken have nodded their heads thoughtfully and said it's an idea worth exploring.

So let's take a look at the logic Konop has employed.

The Lucas County Jobs and Family Services building was purchased by the county using bonds and will be paid off in 2010. The County will own the building free and clear and the money previously used to pay for the purchase will now be available for other structures, other general fund obligations (like recent wages increase to employees, to offset sales tax losses or for the new arena), or could be put toward upgrading and maintaining the building.

Sounds like a good thing, right? Wrong.

Now that the County will own the building, Konop wants to purchase another one, requiring the county to issue more bonds and continue to divert general fund dollars for capital purchases.

Ah, but Maggie, you say, they can sell that JFS building and use the proceeds to purchase the new one.

Again, no.

Logic would dictate that you first take a look at the appraised values of the building when even remotely considering such an option. The current appraised value of the JFS building is $1,601,500. The current appraised value of the United Way building is $5,050,100. In today's market, neither buildings are likely to generate that much in a sale, and both buildings would need 'improvements.' But any common sense thinking would tell you that it's not logical for the County to expect to purchase the UW structure for less than what they would get from the sale of the JFS building.

This is the first factor which should make anyone hearing the idea just shake their head in amazement. But, there's more.

The United Way building needs about $10 million in upgrades, renovations and ADA compliance. The County had a complete ADA evaluation done several years ago and has been doing the necessary improvements to ensure that all County buildings are compliant. The JFS building was upgraded several years ago and meets the ADA requirements. Why would Konop suggest going into a building that requires $10 million worth of improvements just to make it usable, in addition to leaving a building they've just made sure was ADA compliant?

Again, the logic of this situation should mean the discussion would be over. But Konop has an excuse for his idea: "That [Monroe Street] building is not a well-functioning building," Mr. Konop said. "It's extremely inefficient, it's dilapidated."

Yes, the JFS building has some issues. It's been heavily used for a significant number of years by the staff (around 400 people now but as high as over 700 when I first became a commissioner) and, especially, the customers (hundreds of people and families per day). It has sufficient parking for staff and clients and is easy to get to. It's had capital investments over the last six years or so, to re-do the lobby area and make other improvements. The money being used to pay the bonds for the building will, in 2010, be available for making other improvements as necessary - if the county plans appropriately. (Knowing the director of facilities, I'm confident such planning will take place.) But even with these issues, it's still in much better condition than the UW building, and I know because I've read the UW analysis - wonder if Konop has bothered to do so?

Then there is the internal layout of the UW building. When JFS remodeled the lobby, they made sure it was an open and inviting place with plenty of seating. They moved some services to the first floor in order to facilitate prompt service to clients without requiring them to go elsewhere in the building. Anyone who's been inside the UW building would instantly recognize the significant obstacles to be overcome in order to modify that lobby to meet the needs of JFS and its clients. I cannot even imagine the cost of retrofitting that lobby to the needs of JFS - but, considering the structural supports (columns and walls), it must be expensive.

The UW building was designed to accommodate multiple independent organizations and is structured like a multi-use office building. Its structure does not, nor was it designed to, serve the needs of a single agency. To modify its five floors would also be expensive. And those modifications would be on top of the $10 million cost of improvements already identified.

Is this yet enough to make you reject the idea of moving JFS into the UW building? It should be - but it's not for Konop.

Of course, no argument would be complete without the nebulous 'economic development' claim. According to Konop, moving the JFS employees would generate a broader economic impact in downtown.

Yes, you read that correctly. Moving those employees less than three miles into the heart of downtown, instead of leaving them on the edge of downtown is economic development. Now just how that constitutes economic development is unclear - but that's pretty standard for Konop's economic development ideas.

Maybe he believes that workers at JFS would go out to eat more if they were downtown? Of course, they can eat downtown rather easily from their current location - and many of the downtown eateries will deliver to the JFS location. How this constitutes economic development isn't explained - nor is it even questioned by the paper's reporter. (Of course, if questioned about it, there might not be a good answer - better to just let the comment stand without follow-up.)

Konop also points out that JFS staff are often in Government Center and having them closer would 'improve the county's efficiency.' The current JFS building has video conferencing ability and, as far as I know, they still have telephones and computers. If Konop really want to improve efficiency, the commissioners could stop making JFS staff come down in person and start taking advantage of the technology that's available. After all, it isn't as if Konop hasn't been promoting emerging technologies and 'new age' jobs...

These are the issues, clearly identifiable and certainly known to the commissioners. So why would Konop suggest such a ridiculous idea? Either he hasn't got a clue - or he doesn't care about the logic of the idea and is more intent on pandering to the wishes of the publisher of The Blade.

You decide.

6 comments:

Hooda Thunkit said...

Maggie,

Young Ben...

Seems like the obvious heir apparent th the coveted czarty nickname, "ReadyFireAim."

Ben "ReadyFireAim" Konop...

I LIKE it!

It's kinda catchy :-)

Robin said...

The county does not need to purchase a different building.

The A-Hole Lawyer said...

Isn't the UW building near the Blade's building on Jackson??

Hummmmmmmmmmmmmm....what is Block's interest in this issue?

Hummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm....Why build a new, energy efficient "green" building, and a new downtown park; when you can violate private property rights and ensure another derelict building sits empty downtown?

Go Ben, Carty and Block! BCB! Let the acronyms commence.

TAHL

Tim Higgins said...

Maggie,

Perhaps we can get all of the government offices to begin a rather large game of musical chairs in the downtown area. Childish behavior and games seem to be the order of the day, they might as well get some enjoyment out of the process.

Roland Hansen said...

Maggie,
You've said it all very well. An additional consideration that might hamper Ben's idea is the strings attached to the use of federal and state funding used by JFS. Unless things have changed drastically since I retired in 2002 as the JFS Business Administrator, Director of Central Services, office space would need to be advertised for competitive bidding in order to use the state/federal monies that account for a 90% share of JFS funds.

Maggie Thurber said...

Ah, Roland, how right you are! I'd forgotten that aspect in the initial post, so I'm glad you reminded me of it.

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