!UPDATE! ‘L’AFFAIRE STRACUZZI’ MUST BE SETTLED …ECONOMIC REDEVELOPMENT, PART II: ARTIFICIAL PROPS AND TAXPAYER DOLLARS SPELL DOOM FOR DOWNTOWN, plus, FARKAS STILL HIDING FROM THE PLANET
BY DAN VALENTI
UPDATED!! HAPPY NOO YEER EVERYBODY!! Hope the hangovers you’re nursing do not loom large over your poor noggins. We trust most made it through their evenings of reverie and welcoming of Baby Time in reasonably good shape. The Planet did, popping Dom 1982 with lovely women.
The Planet share a couple of house-keeping noes: this update will serve as our post for today. Also, we will leave Pt. 2 of the economic development story up a day longer so more people can read it. We will follow with the printing of THE LETTER from the Democratic Hit Men to Andrea Nuciforo. Next in line after that expose will be pt. 3 on economic development, coauthored with The Planet’s researcher extraordinaire, Francois Arneau.
Can a person, well connected or not, simply ignore court-ordered punishment? Can a little guy, with no big-shot friends, simply ignore a judge’s ruling because he’s got friends in the right places? Is that what Stracuzzi has done? If so, who — what bastion of The Law — will hold this man accountable? This is a reasonable question for a society that calls itself part of a nation of the Law.
selectman in the county has sworn an oath to the constitution, to state law, and to local jurisprudence. Which among them will take the lead in demanding that these unsettling questions be answered? Which member of the bar? Which member of the courts will do the people’s business in this case? Will Mayor Ruberto act on his close friendship with Stracuzzi and want what’s best for his friend and The People? Again, if there has been no spitting on the law, there’s nothing to worry about.
BY DAN VALENTI and FRANCOIS ARNEAU
THIS IS THE SECOND PART OF AN EXCLUSIVE 3-PART SERIES ON ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT.
In part one of this series, we heard what could happen if “downtown redevelopment” was confused with “economic development” — the fatal major premise upon which Pittsfield’s entire revitalization strategy has crumbled. The two terms are not the same, and they have been recklessly confused in Shire City.
“Economic development” can and does foster a healthy, market-driven downtown. Pouring public money into “downtown redevelopment” without underlying economic vibrancy ensures the waste of resources and lack of economic progress, as measured by the tax base. This is the situation that has remained unchanged in Pittsfield for a quarter century.
The major “points of light” the Ruberto Administration and its stooges drag out as proof a downtown “renaissance” are artificially propped up with taxpayer funds — the Colonial, Spice, Beacon Cinema, Workshop Live, and so on. That’s not a renaissance. That’s a recipe for mediocrity.
God bless the true entrepreneurs, who use their own capital to take a chance: the Beads, Bath, & Beyond, Bizzy B’s, Pancho’s, and places like that. Such businesses know that public funding = certain market failure.
Exploring that further brings out a couple more interesting points, but first we need to set the stage. Harken back to the days of Thursday night shopping and hanging out on North Street, to the Saturdays and weekdays where downtown looked as busy as a Manhattan crossroads.
Did the City of Pittsfield throw millions of public dollars at England Brothers, Besse-Clarke, or Pittsfield Sporting Goods? Did it give away taxpayer money to the Movie Mart, Dick Moon’s, and Newberry’s? Did the Highland, the Lantern, or the Hotel Wendell? Did the Toggery Shop, Rosenfeld’s, and Mike’s Berkshire Hills?
No, they didn’t. You, the consumer, did through your patronage of those stores.
The entrepreneurs and shop owners took the time to learn what their customers wanted and filled that need. These stores serviced customers. They did not service a demographic type or a region. They flourished until such time as GE folded, and the discretionary income went away.
Needed: Sustainable Revenue
Every administration since GE left — Reilly, Doyle, Hathaway, and Ruberto — tries a different variation of “fake” development. None of these administrations, however, could hide the lack of “GE” type jobs. They’ve never been replaced. Our leaders have failed the people, miserably.
People without good jobs cannot afford $100 shoes, $4 lattes, and brie on boulabrisque wafers . They don’t dine on hummingbird tongues and Beluga caviar. And this is perhaps the main issue as it pertains to the dishonest nature of “downtown redevelopment” as it’s practiced in Pittsfield.
Without a sustainable source of revenue, no business can survive. The redevelopment of downtown Pittsfield as officials have carried out its actions in the last eight to ten years centers on industries, businesses, and stores that cannot hold serve in tough economic times. No amount of false propping up of business with unaccountable giveaways of public money can mask the underlying decay.
If you are having a tough time making ends meet, do you run out and have a $100 meal at Spice and then take in a movie at the Beacon for $40 (including a popcorn and soda)? No, you make beef stew at home, pop in a rented DVD, and microwave a batch of popcorn. The same goes for the tourists. Do they travel as much in a down economy? The answer is no, despite the parroted piece of puffery published by the Boring Broadsheet a couple days ago printing what the local tourism honchos told it — you know, how 2011 was going to be fantastic, great, and full of champagne and dancing girls.
Economic Development isn’t Based on Feelings
The types of businesses the City of Pittsfield has lured here, touted, and set up with cushy deals (with YOUR MONEY, remember, and not theirs) are typically touted on emotion. The “arguments” by city officials from Ruberto to OCD Director and First Deputy Mayor Deanna Ruffer to councilors are made on feelings, not hard data or rationale.
“Feel good” does make sound economic policy. That’s how you get the Berkshire Eagle touting “1,000 Jobs” of a criminal enterprise and sham that bilked Joe and Jane Littleguy out of a ton of their money. For that and other “white” crimes, there is no accountability in Pittsfield. Officials, through ignorance and acts of malicious will, routinely break the law when it comes to procurement of goods and services.
When asked about the secret nature of these dealings, The mayor says nothing. The city council says less. All the “feel good” rah-rah boosters such as the Chamber of Commerce and the “Alphabet Soup Group” suddenly get a case of the mums. The only time they talk is when it’s too the Berkshire Eagle, their accomplice in crime.
With that, we pose this question: What if the Workshop Live and other such businesses did NOT get incentives, credits, inducements, etc. (call them what you like; it’s the “mutant theory” — the power structure will keep changing the names of the incentives once people catch on. The cut on property tax becomes the “tax credit” becomes the “stimulus”). Without the crutches provided by “enterprise” inducements and other forms of public charity, would these business open up elsewhere in the city? Would they follow old-fashioned capitalism and put up their own money, take a chance, and see if it works?
Some would. If you recall, Workshop Live said it didn’t need taxpayers dollars to come to Pittsfield. The city insisted. Why? What was up with that? Who got what? Were kickbacks in some shape involved? If a business truly believes that what it’s doing will serve a market need, that business will take a chance. That’s the nature of entrepreneurial energy.
No Renaissance, only Redirection
There is no economic development in Pittsfield. There is just redirection of capital taken from taxpayers, the proverbial shuffling the deckchairs on the sinking Titanic. The net growth is zero.
When a business opens and the taxpayers are the venture capitalists, the owners have less incentive to service customers than to service the elites of the power structure. On the other hand, businesses that open without public money must be mindful of the cliental they serve and not the area in which they are serving. This is a major distinction and cannot be under estimated.
Burger Spicey de la Snotty, because they are located in the “enterprise zone” of downtown (and received taxpayer funding), don’t offer a hamburger. That is for peasants. They need to serve berg de la hamboufee. They don’t offer fries. They serve cheddar formage frias and wheat grass at $17.95.
If that same restaurateur opened up an establishment in a different part of town free of the “redevelopment pox,” he would most likely be laughed out of town for such an offering. Instead, this proprietor would serve his customers. He would offer a burger, fries, and soda for $5.95. The business would have them in and out the door all day.
Incentives Don’t Work
Research shows that across the country, more than 300,000 stores, restaurants, and shops have been “incentivized” to artificially locate in downtown redevelopment areas. Of these, 7% survive three years and less than 1% survive five or more years. Stunning numbers. This survival rate also has a detrimental effect on downtown development in terms of other business being wary of entering into and area with a high failure rate area. The bottom line is that if a business needs capital from the government, then it’s going to have a tough go if it.
A strong economic development program, on the other hand, will redevelop downtown, uptown, and in-between town. If there are decent paying jobs, people will have money to spend. It’s that simple. Go back to Thursday nights on North Street. Pittsfield lacks these jobs, and this lack makes a mockery of the ridiculous term “renaissance” as applied to a few “haves” whose existence slaps the “have nots” in the face.
For example, if EV Worldscam had been real and it created 1,000 jobs, that would have produced 1,000 paychecks to be disbursed as the consumer desired, be it at the theater, dinner, car restoration, or any and every number of things resulting in a diverse economy.
In short, call it what you wish: “downtown redevelopment” … “renaissance” … “investment in the city” … whatever your heart desires, but artificially building up a business because it suits a geographical area or, worse, a political agenda is nothing short of wealth redistribution and VACANT dreaming. As history proves time and again, such a policy is doomed to fail.
TWO DAYS HAVE NOW GONE BY WITH NO REPLY FROM BERKSHIRE EAGLE EXECUTIVE EDITOR TIME FARKAS TO OUR CHALLENGE TO A DEBATE. IF THE EAGLE REFUSES TO ACCEPT THIS CHALLENGE, IT WILL SHOW THEY ARE RUNNING SCARED. IT WILL SHOW THEY ARE SCARED TO FACE THE MAN WHO CAN EXPOSE THEN AS FAILURES TO THIS COMMUNITY.
TOMORROW, WE SHALL POST “THE LETTER.” YOU WON’T WANT TO MISS IT. THIS IS THE LETTER “THEY” DON’T WANT YOU TO SEE.