Monday, March 13, 2017

Editorial: Analyzing the Modus Operandi Behind The Main Streets Project

Is the real goal of the Main Streets project to plan for the future needs of Oro Valley residents or is this just a “make work project” to keep town staff employed for the next 20 years? Let’s look at both sides of this issue.

Development without the Main Streets Project
At some point, we will need to redevelop some of the older existing retail centers in southern Oro Valley, such as the Trader Joe’s Plaza which is approximately 35 years old. Also, if the Town continues to annex other areas into Oro Valley, we may need to revamp some of the existing retail centers that would be included in those annexations. Road will continue to be widened and more traffic lights will be installed.

But it’s doubtful that the above-mentioned projects would create enough work for the 77 full-time and 51 part-time employees in the Community Development and Public Works Department to keep them employed for the next 20 years. (This department was formerly known as “Development and Infrastructure.”)

Enter the Main Streets Project: 
    A veiled retirement plan?
Town staff has described this project as, “setting the stage for redevelopment.” So we wonder, with no land left to develop, is this redevelopment plan just a “make work” project to secure the employment of the planning staff, in some cases, right up until their retirement? It’s suspicious that this idea is entirely staff-initiated and staff-driven. It’s also suspicious that the Main Streets Project appeared right after the Town informed the residents that Oro Valley is 95% built out.

With no big projects left, how do they stay employed? Enter the Main Streets Project, which, from various accounts, is expected to last anywhere from 12-20 years. This begs the question, are they planning ahead for the citizens of the town or are they planning ahead for themselves? The timing is just too coincidental.

The Community vs. Developers
Whatever the case, for the Main Streets Project to be successful, you need actual retailers who are willing to locate to these areas and you need stores and restaurants that are actually desired by the surrounding community as opposed to just filling the commercial spaces with whatever stores and restaurants with whom the developer normally does business. That was the case with the $23 million tax-payer funded boondoggle known as Oro Valley Marketplace.

Remember that Vestar (the developer of OV Marketplace) promised us, that in return for our town sharing the sales tax revenue with Vestar, they would create a community gathering place that would be “unique and extraordinary.” With a Wal-Mart anchor and numerous Anywhere USA discount stores, we know that Vestar’s promises were as empty as the numerous storefronts that have lined OV Marketplace since it opened in the fall of 2008.

Promises, promises.
In the case of OV Marketplace, we didn’t get what we desired, nor what was promised. We got swindled. We got what was best for the developer and the end result is that it never became the popular shopping destination or community gathering place that Vestar and the Town promoted. What assurances do we have that Main Streets will be any different?