Sugar Ray

Why council members love Mr. Hunt so much

Steve Brown, who wrote the story, also very generously allowed the spokesman for Valencia not to be identified by name in the story, calling him "a spokesman for the investment firm who asked not to be identified."

Asked not to be identified? Somebody who's going to ask for rezoning and a $37 million tax cut doesn't want to be identified? And the Newsagrees to that? Ah, let me tell you: Ray Hunt is one of those very special princes of the city who receive very special treatment.

Jeanne Phillips, spokeswoman for Hunt Realty, confirmed to me the Hunt connection with the Valencia project. She described Hunt Realty's role as that of a "limited partner."

Councilman Mitchell Rasansky says developers will carry out major redevelopment near NorthPark whether the city gives them $37 million in tax dollars or not. So he says the city shouldn't give it. That's horse sense.
Councilman Mitchell Rasansky says developers will carry out major redevelopment near NorthPark whether the city gives them $37 million in tax dollars or not. So he says the city shouldn't give it. That's horse sense.

"We provide them growth capital," she said. "We have no rights as a limited partner, meaning that they aren't a subsidiary of ours, so they run the show. We just have money in their project. We don't make decisions related to the project."

But Phillips said another thing she wanted to make clear: "We have not applied for any tax incentives. We have applied for a zoning change only."

Hmm? We?

Michael J. Romo, president of Valencia, confirmed to me that his firm had spoken with Rasansky. He said the talks were very preliminary, and he denied that anybody had demanded a $37 million tax cut.

"The $37 million number that is being bandied about is not a request for tax incentives," he said. "It is a base budget of various things that are required to position the area for change. That is a preliminary budget that is subject to change, and we had 'draft' stamped all over it. So there is no number out there."

Well, maybe not. But Mayor Miller told me she had seen a piece of paper with Valencia's logo on top floating around City Hall with the number $37 million on it, characterized in a way she remembered as a tax cut.

I told Romo some people had speculated to me that the demand went up from $6 million max to $37 million on this deal because somebody figures Ray Hunt's name is big enough to take that kind of bite out of the city's hide.

"I can't comment on who might have made that sort of statement," he said, "and I don't know why someone would make that statement, so I cannot address it."

Fair enough. But look. This comes down to a pretty simple set of principles. Remember your horse sense. The city depends on tax money. Some of it is tax money from established taxpayers. Some of it from new.

When we're talking about prime real estate, the city must assume someone will build on it, no matter what, because it's prime real estate. There is no need to give people an inducement: The market value of the real estate is the real inducement. And the city needs to be able to collect taxes on that property--especially on good property--if the city is to survive and have enough money for cops, streets, sewers and so on. If City Hall keeps shredding all the big tax bills, sooner or later it's going to be behind the eight ball.

Duh.

Tax incentives are a legitimate way to lure a developer into a high-risk area where he wouldn't otherwise venture, but this whole thing has turned into something else--a kind of orgy of greed that abandons all sense of civic responsibility.

I recently told a former mayoral candidate that I didn't understand why Hunt needed a tax break on his new corporate headquarters. He said (I'm paraphrasing a little, because I wasn't taking notes): "If the city's going to hand out all kinds of money to people from Cleveland and New York to come down here and do deals, don't you think they could do the same for somebody who's been here all along and a loyal citizen?"

Wow. My answer would be no. These are not supposed to be door prizes.

Mayor Miller said to me last week: "I go to these town hall meetings, and people get up and want to know why we don't have enough police. Well, this is why. They're giving away all the money down there."

To me, that's horse sense.

The sad ending here? I guarantee you Valencia will get all or most of that $37 million out of the city. Guys like Blaydes and Oakley will make sure of that. That's the other end of the horse.

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