Way Above Their Pay Grades?


When we first read the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate’s article on the City’s latest attempts to impose its will (or whim) on the development of the “Higgins Corridor” (“Park Ridge studies new uses for Higgins corridor,” December 25), we wondered: “Who in their right mind would trust Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark, his Alderpuppets, and our City bureaucrats to come up with a “plan” for successfully developing anything?”

That’s because Frimark has already demonstrated his support for trying to sell out Park Ridge taxpayers through give-aways to campaign contributors: e.g., an eight-unit zoning variance to Norwood Builders/Bruce Adreani for Executive Office Plaza; $2.4 million in environmental clean-up and sales-tax sharing to Bill Napleton/Napleton Cadillac; and his wanting to offer hundreds of thousands of dollars above the City’s own appraisal to the owner of 720 Garden.

And from what we’ve seen, the vast majority of local government officials and bureaucrats seem totally incapable of making basic economic judgments that even the most novice private developer can make routinely…without benefit of a pocket calculator.

So when you read that that City is going to formulate a “Higgins Corridor Plan” that will “describe Park Ridge’s vision of the future development of the Higgins Road corridor and provide strategies for its implementation,” even you non-Catholics should get yourselves a rosary and start praying that the City’s economic give-aways won’t be catastrophic or fatal.

Try critically reading the Plan developed by hired gun consultants Camiros, Ltd. and Valerie Kretchmer Associates, Inc. [pdf]: You will chuckle, you may laugh, and – if you take it seriously – you will probably cry.  And when Community Development Director Carrie Davis starts throwing around buzzwords and phrases like “TIF”s, “Special Service Areas” and “outside grants” so that the Higgins Corridor Plan “doesn’t have to be a city-funded project,” that’s a pretty good clue that a city-funded project is exactly what it will turn out to be by the time the smoke clears and the mirrors are stowed away.

Just the Camiros/Kretchmer Plan’s “vision statement” – built on such Developer 101 marketing clichés as the Higgins Road Corridor becoming a “vibrant southern gateway to the City of Park Ridge” – let’s you know that you’re in for the proverbial snow job. 

Remember how “vibrant” was the adjective of choice for the gushing consultants and developers (and their local governmental cheerleaders like then-acting mayor Mike Marous, then-alderman/current Mayor Frimark, then-alderman “Retail Rex” Parker, et al.) of Uptown’s “Target Area 2.”  We still haven’t seen anything close to what we would consider “vibrant” emanating from Chico’s, Jos. A. Banks, the noodle joint, or the rest of those “retailers” that we were told would flock to Uptown and turn it into a rockin’ place that would deliver bushels of sales tax dollars to the City treasury. 

In fact, the closest we’ve seen to “vibrant” in TA2 is at flagship retailer Trader Joe’s, although that often consists of nothing more than a double handful of middle-aged Park Ridge matrons dropping a couple of bottles of Two Buck Chuck, several kinds of organic goat cheeses and a bag or two of “Wasabi Wow” trail mix into their carts.  Maybe “vibrant” is another one of those things that isn’t what it used to be.

And when was the last time the City advertised exactly how much sales tax all of those TA2 businesses are actually generating?

But back to the City’s “Higgins Corridor Plan” as devised by Camiros/Kretchmer, where we found the following passage: “Within the corridor as a whole, commercial establishments can be appropriate uses as sites redevelop.  Restaurants in particular are able to serve the day-time population, guests at the hotels across the street and the nearby residents, with quick casual restaurants the most appropriate type of eatery.” 

Wow! (or maybe “Wasabi Wow”!)  How much is that kind of insight costing us…and do we get a rebate for each time they use it again with some other towns collection of bureaucrats?

Ald./Mayoral Candidate Dave Schmidt (1st Ward) suggested one or more hotels in the corridor west of Cumberland, and the City’s economic director Kim Uhlig said developers have expressed interest in building a hotel, but it would have to be taller than the three-four stories permitted under the City’s zoning code.  So in typical don’t-think-outside-the-box bureaucrat fashion, it looks like City Staff decided this was way above their pay grades and folded their tents; and our elected officials, lemming-like, promptly followed suit.

Here’s an idea, folks, and you don’t even need to pay us for it: Like it or not, the developers who are putting up the money will end up calling the tune on what’s built down there.  So if there are developers already interested in putting up a hotel, why not invite their proposals and see whether it’s worth considering?  Like most local governments street-walking for cash because they can’t ever seem to live within their taxpayers’ means, the City of Park Ridge already should know what it is – so why not try to get the best price for its “favors”?

Or putting it a different way: Let’s not let City government blow off the big bucks and other benefits that can come from a “vibrant” moderate-sized hotel (like the Hyatt at Devon and River Road) and then try to nickel-and-dime us to death with sweetheart variances to “friendly” developers, like the eight extra condo units at Executive Office Plaza.

Because if we want to go big, we can’t keep thinking small.