The Carbondale Observer

News and commentary about Carbondale, Illinois and SIUC

Mayoral Candidates and Economic Development

with 6 comments

The Southern Illinoisan has an article on the five mayoral candidates ideas for economic development. Goldman and Maroney seem pretty close on economic development, with both citing the airport as a development opportunity and both suggesting that unnecessary regulations have driven business to Williamson County.

I generally agree that Carbondale is over-regulated. Check out the city code (navigation on the left). My favorite silly regulation, which I’ve cited before, is in Title 5, Chapter 8. This regulation fixes the hours of pushcart operators. Did you know a pushcart operator can’t open until 1:00 PM on a Sunday? I’m sure the sky would fall if someone got a Winston Bagel at noon on a Sunday.

I’m not so sure about the airport as an economic development opportunity. The airport isn’t adjacent to an interstate or even a state highway; it’s located on a back road. It doesn’t carry commercial flights. True, SIUC is building a transportation education center at the airport (assuming the Illinois Supreme Court doesn’t overturn the law appropriating the funds), but I don’t see how that would lead to much economic development.

Goldman and Ritzel both cite entrepreneurship as a route to development. That’s a worthy goal, but entrepreneurship is a private sector activity and I’m not sure how much the mayor can do to increase entrepreneurship. Revising and eliminating unnecessary regulations would be one good step, as Goldman mentions.

Fritzler and Haynes both defended the city’s economic development efforts, citing T.J. Maxx and Chili’s as evidence. I found this quote from the article particularly amazing:

“I think, compared to other communities, we have been pretty active,” Fritzler said. “Look at the businesses that have been opening. I think we’re on the positive end of that.”

I’m really not sure what he’s talking about. What other communities? Marion? How many new businesses opened in Marion in 2010, and how many opened in Carbondale? Like it or not, Marion is our competition for outside investment. A new chain store or chain restaurant interested in opening in southern Illinois will either open here or in Marion. Can anyone seriously argue that we’re winning that competition?

And what about the businesses that aren’t here? The former Office Max and Rex electronics buildings have stood empty for years, aside from seasonal use as Halloween stores. Ditto for the old K’s Merchandise space at the mall. Two Doves Photography and Mr. Tuxedo recently moved to a field in Crainville.

Chili’s and T.J. Maxx are nice developments if sales tax collection is the only standard of evaluation. Aside from a few managers, chain stores don’t really provide good incomes. I’d rather have them here than in Marion, but I don’t think we can consider chain stores a substitute for economic development.

The most unusual – and most interesting – idea came from Steven Haynes. From the Southern Illinoisan article:

…Haynes said by offering tax incentives, the city could have a downtown area that combines business and residential buildings, creating a neighborhood that would encourage local shopping.

“They’d walk, they would go to other businesses downtown,” Haynes said. “They would be there during the daytime, the afternoon and the evenings, and you would have a focus on walking traffic and individuals that would promote that particular area.”

If it were well designed, a revitalized downtown with unique local businesses mixed with residences would be a great addition to Carbondale. To actually accomplish this goal we’d have to make a clean break with the past. So far, Carbondale has not been willing to tolerate the density, mixed uses, and publicly subsidized parking that would be necessary to build the downtown Haynes describes.

The developments in the downtown TIF district (First Southern Bank, Advance Auto Parts, Sav-A-Lot, and Stadium Grill) are all auto-oriented, single story, single use buildings. We would have to completely change our development policies – and our zoning – if we wanted the walkable, mixed use downtown Haynes describes. I’d love to see it happen, but I’m not holding my breath.

Comments are welcome.

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Written by The Carbondale Observer

February 2, 2011 at 7:45 am

6 Responses

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  1. The Mayoral candidates are missing the point. Carbondale does not suffer from unemployment, at least in comparison with the rest of Illinois. It has consistently rated one of the three or four best employment numbers. Carbondale suffers from the lack of “economic development”. In other words, the prosperity of the town itself. Here is the question for the mayoral candidates: If you develop sensational jobs at the airport, for instance, what good does it do Carbondale if the employees decide to live in Carterville because of the better neighborhoods and schools?

    Carbondale has been down the road of “business friendly” for decades. Take a look around. Has it helped? The neighborhoods and schools do not attract young families or the high income earners at the university and the medical center. Solve the problem of neighborhoods and you will see higher enrollment at the university, and prosperous consumers for the local businesses.

    D. Gorton

    February 2, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    • Yes, the unemployment rate here isn’t worse than elsewhere, but the nature of the business growth and the nature of the jobs in Carbondale will also have an impact on neighborhoods–in keeping with Haynes’ point about developing walkable shopping etc. in town. At least the central neighborhoods, including your beloved Arbor District, would benefit greatly, I’d like to think, if there were more things for people to do on foot downtown. If you’re going to drive the Chilis for dinner anyway, why bother paying Carbondale taxes–you can live in Carterville instead.

      The tough part isn’t about more or less regulation but getting the regulations right. We don’t want more cheap housing in the center of town (though we don’t want to raise the bar so high that all students move outside of town, removing their valuable foot traffic from downtown) but we need to be open to mixed use zoning; I simply ignorant of whether we allow for enough of that in our zoning or comprehensive plan. Certainly the current regime’s emphasis on big box stores hasn’t helped downtown any.

      Nemo

      February 5, 2011 at 4:07 pm

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  3. Re: alleged “over-regulation,” I absolutely agree that the antiquated “blue law” you’ve cited is silly and could be repealed with no ill effect, but I don’t notice that Marion’s prosperity is based on a thriving Sunday-morning pushcart market, nor have I read that Winston or some other pushcart operator says he believes he could be making money in Carbondale on Sunday mornings but for that gosh-darn regulation. I believe that the specter of “regulation as the chief evil preventing economic growth” is just a Republican-style ploy to blame “the gubmint” for everything. I’d be very interested to know precisely what regulation Carbondale has, but Marion doesn’t, that has been actually *documented* to have driven business over there. (If such proof exists, is there any doubt that the offending regulation already would have been repealed?) In the meantime, I am not likely to vote for any candidate who wants to be in charge of a governmental body that he demonizes without providing specific examples and proof. It would be like hiring a carpenter who says he hates hammers.

    anonymous

    February 11, 2011 at 12:45 pm

  4. Carbondale’s regulations for land use and building codes costs South Pointe Bank thousands of dollars. The contractor told my father, Olie Musgrave, then President and CEO, that the two-story bank building next to Schnuck’s cost between $40,000 to $60,000 more in Carbondale, than if he had built it in Marion, solely due to Carbondale’s city regulations.

    Another example was the bank facility next to Burger King on the east side of the city. The location was already a platted outlot for the Burger King development. City rules required the bank to re-plat the outlot as a separate plat which again cost thousands in paperwork and provided not one penny in value to the bank.

    I’ve read with interest the suggestions and platforms of both the mayoral and council candidates. Economic development is important and city government can make a difference. Part of it is attitude and part is your regulations.

    Of course, the biggest factor in Carbondale’s growth, and a big factor in the rest of the region, is the on-campus enrollment at the university. I was amazed a few years ago when the Jackson County economic development group came out with this new plan for economic development which seem to solely be a call for more funding for itself on every other page, yet mentioned nothing about the economic impact of students and their numbers.

    From the outside looking in, I’d say Brad Cole’s willingness to work with the university on the new capital improvements on campus will pay big dividends in years to come.

    Now if someone would just explain to me how destroying the Strip helps either economic development or student retention/attraction.

    On a separate note, Maroney’s comments on school district consolidation are also key for future growth. We have too many school districts in this state (note I didn’t necessarily say schools). You could get rid of three of them just by consolidating the Carbondale area districts into a unit district.

    The problems with the Carbondale grade school system, particularly when compared with the successes of Unity Point and Giant City, and even DeSoto, only encourage residential development outside the city. Mount Vernon has had the same problems but even worse – there are 17 school districts in Jefferson County, 14 grade school districts feeding into four high schools.

    School district consolidation is not a city council problem, but it is a good use of the mayor’s bully pulpit as the community’s overall elected leader.

    Jon Musgrave

    February 21, 2011 at 9:39 pm

  5. Thanks for the great comments everyone! I apologize for the late reply – I’ve been too busy to work in much blogging this month.

    I agree with D. Gorton that we have to improve our neighborhoods if we want Carbondale to grow. We have already have the two of the largest employers in the region, but many of their employees choose to live elsewhere. I think the quality of neighborhoods definitely plays a role in that choice.

    As for whether Carbondale is “business friendly,” I really can’t say. We were friendly to the mall several years ago when we re-paved their lot. On the other hand, business owners near the former Ike Auto Park requested to be annexed into Carterville because they wanted to avoid Carbondale’s regulations. One owner was afraid he would have been required to pave his parking lot if his business had been annexed into Carbondale.

    It seems to me that our fairly complex regulations harm small, local business more than big, out of town business. Kohl’s or Dick’s have the resources to comply and do enough business to make it worthwhile. Smaller business owners may not understand the regulations and may not be able to afford the additional money spent on compliance.

    I also agree with Nemo on the need for walkable, mixed use development in the downtown area. I think we missed a real opportunity for quality redevelopment with the TIF district. Had we included some design standards and incentives for mixed use, we might have gotten a much better result. One point I’d add is that we need to reevaluate our parking policies and regulations. Even walkable developments must be accessible to cars. Increased use of on-street parking would be a step in the right direction.

    I think anonymous’s comment missed the point, and that may be partially my fault. In the post, I said that “I generally agree that Carbondale is over-regulated.” What I meant was that Carbondale is poorly served by its regulations. It isn’t the amount of regulation that concerns me, but the type and the usefulness.

    I gave an example of a silly sounding regulation that serves no purpose, but is also pretty harmless. There are other examples that I think are harmful. For example, I think the city is poorly served by zoning regulations segregating uses. Simpler, more permissive regulation would be beneficial. And, as I mentioned above, I think our parking policies need a second look.

    I certainly don’t have an ideological opposition to regulation itself. The post definitely did not engage in a “Republican-style” attempt to demonize government. My positions on same sex marriage and the death penalty, both of which I have written about on this blog, would get me thrown out of the Republican party. I also don’t think ideology is very useful in small town government. Municipalities of our size just don’t have as much freedom to act as larger units of government. But that’s another post.

    Thanks to Jon Musgrave for providing two specific examples of the cost of regulation. South Pointe Bank built anyway. How many businesses didn’t? Again, I think complex regulation hurts small business more than larger businesses.

    I also agree with Jon Musgrave that Carbondale’s school districts should be consolidated. I’d like to see the three elementary districts merge with the high school district. I think that would result in savings by eliminating duplication of services (principally in administration), and I think it would simplify and clarify our tax situation. I’d also like to see the Park District merged with the city government but, again, that’s another post.

    I guess time will tell if Brad Cole’s investment of city tax revenue in Saluki Way will pay off. I’m a bit skeptical. It definitely provided some work to the construction industry and there was undoubtedly some spin-off retail spending, but I’m not sure the new facilities will bring more people to the games or more students to SIU. I’d have preferred an investment in academics. But the decision has been made and we’re committed. So we’ll see how it works out.

    Thanks again for the comments!

    The Carbondale Observer

    February 23, 2011 at 12:01 am


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