Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Standard-Examiner Editors Practice Caution

Little or no Chamber of Commerce babbitry evident in today's Standard-Examiner editorial

By Curmudgeon

There's an interesting editorial in the Standard-Examiner this morning about the pending development agreement between Ogden and those proposing the hotel/condo and water park projects. I expected [given past performance] that the Std-Ex would do its usual Ogden-Weber Chamber of Commerce booster rah-rah dance and gush with unrestrained enthusiasm for the project. It didn't.

Here are the opening graphs of the editorial:
Ogden's proposed 14-story, 300-room hotel and adjoining water park has the potential to bring in nearly $2 million a year to the city in property taxes -- if, as hoped, the hotel and water park are moneymakers. That could mean $391,000 for the city each year, and $1 million for the Ogden School District, reports the Standard-Examiner's Scott Schwebke. Of course, those numbers are coming from the chief developer, Midtown Development, but if the company delivers it'll be good for Ogden.
The Std-Ex editorial board seems to have learned some caution. The editorial doesn't say the project will bring in $2 million a year in property taxes, only that it has the potential to do that if the projects succeed. And then it adds the further caution that those numbers are coming from the developers, and will materialize only if they can deliver on their claims.

This is significant progress, I think, on the part of the Std-Ex Editorial Board. And it gets better. The editorial notes that:
Part of the package will involve $18 million worth of city-issued bonds to build two parking structures....Ogden City Councilwoman Dorrene Jeske, who has often clashed with Mayor Matthew Godfrey in the past, told the Standard-Examiner's Schwebke she's "pleased that Ogden is at the point where it doesn't have to use tax increment to entice businesses to come."
But then the editorial continues:
True, the $18 million for the parking structures won't be repaid with tax-increment funding, but the mechanism is comparable: The city would create a "special assessment" area, levying an assessment against properties in the location to be improved -- the hotel and water park, as well as other developments that would use the parking -- to repay the costs of the projects. The continued financial well-being of the hotel and water park will be necessary for the city-issued bonds to be repaid in full.
No dissembling, no slight of hand. The board says flat out, right in front of god and everybody, that if the projects go belly up, the city [i.e. the ratepayers] will be on the hook for paying of that $18 million on bonds for parking to service the two projects. Admirably straightforward.

The editorial goes on, of course, to imply [it never really comes out clearly on the matter] that the City Council's apparent intent to ratify the development agreement is a prudent one. And sadly, [to paraphrase Dan S. slightly] "the white elephant in the room" --- the extent to which the project's success depends upon the success of Mayor Godfrey's flatland urban gondola between downtown and WSU --- is not discussed at all, nor is the related worrisome language in the development agreement: ""The city understands and agrees that the Developer is relying on the location of the Gondola Stop as a material factor in deciding to build the project." Does that mean the city has accepted responsibility for arranging for the gondola line to be built? That its [i.e. the Mayor's] assurances on this matter are part of the agreement between the city and the developers? It could be read to mean that. On this, the Std-Ex board sadly says nothing.

But still, the editorial shows, I think, a laudable evolution of caution on the Std-Ex Editorial Board vis-a-vis developers' claims and promises, and a laudable willingness to indicate the risks involved in city participation in such projects. The editorial, in short -- though it reaches a conclusion I would probably not have reached, at least not yet -- is not the Chamber of Commerce Babbitry I was expecting. I hope the Std-Ex's tendency to look upon developers' promises and claims with at least a partially gimlet and jaundiced eye is a harbinger of even better things to come from the Board down the road.

Comments, anyone?

15 comments:

dan s. said...

Hey folks, don't let the editorial distract you from today's Planning Commission agenda, where it says the PC will be considering the Walmart site plan. Haven't seen the plan myself, but I suggest attending if possible and speaking up for a pedestrian-friendly design that's compatible with downtown.

J. Spencer said...

There isn't a single soul at the Standard who knows a lick about business or economics.

The Standard's weakness in this regard is comical.

If there was one single journalist on the SE staff who'd even minored in the field of economics during his college sojourn, it would be a miracle.

There's no newspaper in America with dumber editors, economics-wise, than those of the Std-ex.

These dopes are a pack of "economics" Schmucks.

Sly said...

A pedestrian-friendly Wal-Mart? Uh, can you say oxymoron?

dan s. said...

sly,

A pedestrian-friendly Walmart is certainly possible. It should be at least two stories high (preferably more), built to the sidewalk, with parking in back. It should have doors facing multiple directions, and no fences or walls around the lot to block pedestrian access. Traditional downtown department stores used to be built this way (with little or no parking). The Fred Meyer in SLC is a pretty good modern example. Whether Walmart Corp. would agree to such a design I have no idea.

The Lovely Jennifer said...

Two things:

Babbitry is sure a fun word.

and

I voted.

TLJ

Curmudgeon said...

J. Spencer:

You wrote that "There isn't a single soul at the Standard who knows a lick about business." Well, the SE is a mid-sized city daily that is making money. Urban dailies for the most part in these parlous times for reading in general, seem to be hemorrhaging money, not making it. [See latest turmoil created by layoffs to save money at the LA Times.] So somebody over there must know something about business and how to do it at a profit.

Minor Machman said...

Just say NO to more RDAs! Weber County and Ogden in particular is the highest taxed in the State and the State ranks in the top ten in the entire Country/America as the highest taxed when all taxes are considered.

Half of Wyoming's total State revenue comes from oil, gas and mineral extraction. They have no income taxes and "fair" and reasonaable property taxes. And they have the lowest sales taxes in the 8 Western States.

Half of Nevada's total state revenue flow comes from sales taxes due to the gaming industry. They charge no income taxes and have moderate property taxes.

Half of Utah's total state revenues come from.........??????
The Federal "Guvment" via grants and monies paid to IRS and Hill AFB employees.

But wait! Utahans pay high income taxes (really 100% education taxes), high and unfair property taxes with 55 to 80% going to school districts, and sales taxes..and taxes, fees, licenses, ad nauseum on every thing imaginable and some not imaginable. RDAs add to Ogden City's tax burdens when the RDA financed business' default. And Ogden is infamous throughout the State for having extra taxation due to having so many RDAs. That's OK unless you don't want continue to pay through the nose for unnecessary taxation. A bleed'in $18,000,000 parking lot RDA?! YGBSM!!! Who's on first?

frank said...

Curmudgeon

I wouldn't exactly call any one at the Standard a business genius because you claim they are making money. Where do you get that info from anyway?

I believe that if they are making any money it is simply because they pay their employees such a pittance, they do exactly zero when it comes to investigating the stories they do print, they print a skimpy little advertising rag that is very short on news and full of ads, and they skated into a nice new building for nothing thanks to another Godfrey scam on Ogden's tax payers.

A formula for making a few bucks maybe, but not one for being a decent newspaper, which they are not regardless of your incessant propaganda to the contrary.

shlepke said...

I wonder if any of the S.E employees are dissing on the SE on this blog? hmmm

Curmudgeon said...

Frank:

You wrote: I wouldn't exactly call any one at the Standard a business genius because you claim they are making money. Nor would I... call them geniuses. Nor did I. Simply said somebody over there must know something about running the business end of a paper, since they are making money when most urban dailies seem not to be. That's all.

As for this: A formula for making a few bucks maybe, but not one for being a decent newspaper, which they are not regardless of your incessant propaganda to the contrary. If you've been a long time reader, you've noticed... or should have... my criticisms of the SE's news coverage, in particular. I am very aware of the difference between what my home town paper ought to be, and what it is. And I point out that difference frequently.

And yes, we'd agree [I suspect] that newspaper editors have a higher calling than just servicing the bottom line. The press in general serves a constitutional role in our system of government that is vitally important, as the founders well understood. Recall Jefferson's saying if he had to live in a land without government or a land without newspapers, he'd prefer the former. And the SE, in my view, falls short of that standard far too often.

But, that said, newspapers that consistently lose money year in an year out, undergo cuts in staff [see LA Times most recently; second wave of layoffs], which cuts their ability to be the kind of newspaper the founders relied on even more. Eventually, if they keep losing money, they go out of business, and they cease serving any public role at all. Unless of course there is some billionaire angel willing to subsidize decades of losses for a political or religious end --- as the Rev. Moon subsidizes the steeply unprofitable Washington Times --- seems to me an independent paper has to at least break even to stay in business and continue being a newspaper. The SE management has found a way to do that, apparently.

At the cost of being a better paper? Probably. Could it do a better job in its news reporting? Of course. Does that make it a worthless pile of bird cage liner? No. Would Ogden be better off without the SE? Absolutely not. And when the SE shows some signs of improving quality... as I think today's editorial may... is that worthy of remark? Yes.

frank said...

Curmudgeon, you are right of course in your analysis of newspapers in general needing to make money in order to stay in business.

You do have a higher opinion of the Standard, in spite of your qualifiers, than I do. It does seems that my opinion of the Standard is shared by many in the Ogden area, at least with the people that I talk to. I don't know of anyone who is familiar with the paper that has much respect for it.

I think the Standard would sell a lot more papers and thus make more money if they developed a back bone and got into at least a little bit of investigative reporting. The press release style of reporting they do is not the mark of a good newspaper. Their coverage of Ogden city government and the gyrations and manipulations of the Godfrey administration are quite pathetic. All this incredible fodder that the mayor provides for them and they don't seem to have the guts to load a little bit of it up and shoot it.

Yes, they throw a little jab once in while, but I think it is only to have something to point to when they try to defend themselves against claims they are biased. One incident comes to mind a few months back when the editor wrote a self congratulating op-ed piece about how all sides of the seriously divided city was accusing them of being biased for the other side. It made one wonder why they didn't do some articles about the seriously divided city that the editor admitted to in that editorial.

Their coverage of the recent city election and the campaign leading up to it were laughable, very one sided and demonstrated a lot of incompetence and bias. Certainly not the stuff of a decent self respecting newspaper - in my opinion.

Curmudgeon said...

Frank:

We're not disagreeing about much. The SE's tendency to do press-release journalism, especially where the press releases come from elected officials, is perhaps its greatest weakness, and one I've taken them to task for repeatedly over the last couple of years. Another facet of that is the paper's reluctance to fact-check campaign statements [all sides], which was painfully evident during Ogden's last municipal election. No argument there.

On the other hand, of late, the SE's political reporters do seem to be doing a little more fact-checking and questioning. I'm thinking, for example, of the recent story on Ernest's decision to delay closing on, and building on, the river project land it wants, which was announced by the Godfrey administration. The SE reporter called up the company to check, and found a company exec willing to say, on the record that it was news to him.

The SE very recently appointed a new editor to oversee its political reporting. Just a few weeks ago. Be interesting to see if his appointment results in improved political coverage of Ogden municipal affairs.

For all its shortcomings, though, I think those who've argued here [and you didn't argue this, Frank] that Ogden would be better off without the SE, or that Ogdenites can better follow Ogden affairs in the [very occasional] stories in the SL Trib than in the SE are flat wrong. The SE isn't what my hometown paper could or should be. But Ogden, which lives forever in the electronic news shadow of SLC, would not be better off if it went under.

You think the SE would sell more papers if it "developed a backbone and got into at least a little bit of investigative reporting." I agree. That would certainly make it a more lively paper. But investigative reporting is labor intensive. You have to open up time for reporters to do it, which means released time from covering the stories they cover daily, which means more staff.

Would it pay? I like to think so, but I'm not sure it would. Judging by my students at WSU, I have my doubts. Way less than half of them read a paper every day. Any paper for any reason. [I've asked.] And they have papers provided free each class day... NY Times every day and SE sometimes. The racks are never empty at the end of the day. The daily paper habit, which I grew up with, is a dying one I'm afraid.

So while I would like to see a paper with more backbone as you put it, a paper more committed as H.L. Mencken said, to "comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable," I'm not certain it would mean more readers, more ad inches, and a more profitable [and so more independent] paper. Wish I was.

Bill C. said...

Sorry to veer of topic, but this morning lying little matty made an appearence on KJZZ TV, the gondola is back. Brace yourself for, as Yogi put it,"dejavu all over again".
It was rather funny, he seemed to be spinning it from an historical angle, there was previously a resort there, and that's the motivation and justification behind this thing. Yeah, an Aframe cabin, accessed by horse drawn wagon.
He then went on to spout the familiar BS about seamless airport to resort travel and that the downtown area had lots of parking and would be more prefferable than a large parking lot at the base of the mountain. This I suppose is his justification of the Urban gondola.
He repeated the stupid line about how WSU would benefit emensely by being the only school connected to a resort, you know, study, ski, study.
The gondola towers have been moved back to the middle of the road, I suppose the prospect of being forced to buy all the homes on one side of the street was aliitle too much to swallow. This change also stands in stark contrast to his scheme when the City would be financing the URBAN portion, which he states will not be the case.( $18 million being requested in an agreement predicated on a gondola) He said the City would not be financing the gondola but coordinating the project. He offered no price tag for that one.
He finished with the old familiar monitary carrot, $5 to $8 million a year in tax benefit to the City if we annex the resort. Those numbers sound quite similar to the numbers from round one but they were based on property values that would come about by replacing our golf course with super valued patio homes. Without the homes where would all this cash come from?
I'm sure we'll be hearing a whole lot of BS from lying little matty in the future about this, and he assures us that the patagonia vest wearing thorazine sedated one will be forthcoming with a proposal in the near future.
Well said Yogi.

sly said...

Yeah, Dan, you're right that it is possible to build a pedestrian-friendly Wal-Mart, but it will almost never happen (out of the billion WMs out there, there has to be one decent one), especially in Ogden (which was my point). And according to the design highlighted in today's paper, it is far from it (single-story w/ a sea of parking abutting Wall Ave). I'm glad people like you are willing to speak up about important design issues, but they do and always will take a back seat (unfortunately so). Until people start to realize that urban design is more than just personal preference and color, this is the "cutting edge" development we are going to see.

Minor Machman said...

I am paying 191 bucks for a postage stamp size black and white public notice to run only two times.

How much does the Realtor/Developer Association pay daily for a 7 to 8 full page color advertisement?

Any wonder why the Realtor Association skullduggery and ethically challenged business and legislation in this State is never called on the mat?

Is that good business or being complicent in undue influence?

Ogden Valley is faced with an invasion...and it "ain't" from Mexico.

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