Staying on the right road

Page through the entire document holding Red Deer’s Greater Downtown Action Plan (it’s available on the city’s website).

Page through the entire document holding Red Deer’s Greater Downtown Action Plan (it’s available on the city’s website). When you get to the very end, there’s a page quoting Dag Hammarskjold; “Only he who keeps his eye fixed on the far horizon will find the right road.”

The horizon — the goal — is to see this plan become reality. That includes building a year-round public market in the Riverlands district.

That part of the plan looks most likely to succeed if it’s placed in the buildings that used to be the bus barns in the area now known as the Old City Yards.

It shouldn’t matter if the city retains ownership of the buildings and then leases them to a market operator, or if investors buy the building and operate it themselves. As long as the city realizes its goals, everyone should be happy.

But the city has investors of its own — taxpayers — with a significant financial interest in that prime piece of property. Council has an obligation to see that we make the best financial deal we can, while pursuing the goal on the horizon.

But the goal is more important than the question of who owns the land, and we can conclude council understands that.

So, are we more likely to see a year-round market emerge in Riverlands in our lifetime if we lease the buildings, or if we sell them?

Here’s one speculative vote saying the goal is more achievable if the city retains ownership.

Public markets are not huge generators of cash.

That land along the river is so valuable that we are never going to see a public market there if private investors had to pay real market value for the land and buildings, plus build a market inside them.

The enterprise is unlikely to generate enough cash to pay the mortgage, much less a living for the market operators.

Remember, one highly-paid consultant has already advised that Red Deer wasn’t large enough to support a year-round public market.

The question then was phrased in different terms than the context of today’s discussion, but the opinion remains that selling things in a year-round public market is not the same as selling things in a high-volume enterprise like Superstore.

Not the same at all — and the customers at both venues are generally glad of the differences.

A worst-case scenario would look something like this: some eager, perhaps idealistic investors put together a convincing proposal to buy the land. We taxpayers take their money and despite our support for the market as customers, the cash demands of their debt is too large.

They suffer on for a few years, and then have to close out. Then they seek to sell their assets — the most valuable land in the city.

Who would buy that property? Hopefully, its price wouldn’t keep it undeveloped for years — like some privately-held property downtown — but you can bet it wouldn’t be the operator of a public market.

To avoid that, the city needs to retain ownership of the asset.

The up-front money won’t be nearly as good, but the long-term prospects are better.

Having a successful public market in the area, synergies develop with other businesses nearby because of the foot traffic these markets generate.

The entire area becomes all the more desirable for the residential lots.

There’s plenty of tax money to be made from businesses and residences in Riverlands.

For a long, long time.

If we keep our eyes on the horizon, if we work on the goals, and not ideology or the process.

If you believe Dag Hammarskjold, that’s how you find the right road.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.