Letter to the editor: Promises, promises

Published 11:47 pm Friday, March 1, 2013

To the Editor:
The long anticipated sale of the Quick Start II building is nearing completion. When judged by any traditional measure of profitability the Economic Development Commission’s attempt at commercial real estate speculation is a failure. It is a project that cost over $2.6 million to build, maintain and finance. After remaining completely vacant for six years, it found one live prospect. A buyer, who would pay only $1.05 million, yet first required $2.4 million in state and local incentive grants before finalizing the sale. This represents a net expenditure in local taxes and state grants of $4.0 million. The economic-development crowd is predictably ballyhooing that within five years this deal will generate 100 jobs. However, the new owners will commit to a work force of no more than 52 by 2016. Regardless of how many jobs they create, God bless them for ending what has become a complete farce.
After spending $75,000 per job promised, taxpayers might hope that this would put an end to the nightmare created by the industrial park, but we would be sorely disappointed.
In a gesture that concedes the industrial park’s lack of commercial promise, the county commissioners, with EDC encouragement, have proposed moving the jail from West Second Street to a new location at the Beaufort County Industrial Park. They are, in effect, advocating the gradual disassembling of downtown Washington’s government complex by initiating a shift of operations and jobs from the city’s central core to a cotton field near the industrial park.
The jail’s construction is projected to nearly triple its capacity to 288 inmates and cost $30 million. Even a substantially less ambitious effort would be a large and long term construction project, bringing scores of highly paid tradesmen and contractors into the area. All of this business activity would now be redirected to the industrial park and away downtown.
It is easy to imagine that in the near future the sheriff’s office will follow the jail to the west. Then it will be argued that the courts would be better located if they were incorporated into the growing justice complex. Prosecutors and civil attorneys will follow. Jobs will migrate away from downtown Washington. Surplus office space will become available. Vacancy rates will drift upward.  The city will be left with a single purpose, empty and cavernous courthouse building depressing nearby property and tax values.
Over the past 10 years, the City of Washington has entrusted nearly $2 million to the EDC. For their sacrifice, city taxpayers have been left with high electric bills, a bankrupt Turnage Theater, a vacant and decaying Main Street, and now they face the prospect of a major source of economic activity being shifted out of a downtown business district that has been the center of local government and commercial life for over 200 years in Beaufort County.
After a decade of promising to create a new Raleigh on the Pamlico, the economic-development strategy is leaving downtown worse off than ever.
Warren Smith
Beaufort County