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Tuesday, March 28, 2017
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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Bowser lesson: When government steps in, others avoid tough choices

Workers with Martin Enterprises assemble a crane Friday in preparation for the demolition of former S.F. Bowser Co. buildings on Creighton Avenue. But the demolition has been put on hold, at least for now. (Photo by Kevin Leininger of The News-Sentinel)
Workers with Martin Enterprises assemble a crane Friday in preparation for the demolition of former S.F. Bowser Co. buildings on Creighton Avenue. But the demolition has been put on hold, at least for now. (Photo by Kevin Leininger of The News-Sentinel)
Although the buildings may come down and the land donated to the nearby Renaissance Pointe YMCA, the $530,000 project will not address the adjacent parking lot, which is also in bad shape. (Photo by Kevin Leininger of The News-Sentinel)
Although the buildings may come down and the land donated to the nearby Renaissance Pointe YMCA, the $530,000 project will not address the adjacent parking lot, which is also in bad shape. (Photo by Kevin Leininger of The News-Sentinel)
Mary Tyndall
Mary Tyndall
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Friday, March 17, 2017 09:01 pm
The proposed demolition of former S.F. Bowser Co. buildings on Creighton Avenue — which won at least a temporary reprieve Friday — has mostly been framed as a standoff among historic preservationists, neighborhood activists and city officials. But the story also provides an example, on a scale small and local enough to be easily understood, why the reformation of the massive federal bureaucracy is proving so difficult despite the anticipated collapse of Obamacare and a nation lurching toward $20 trillion in debt like a runaway train. All but lost in the back-and-forth about whether enough has been done to save the buildings once occupied by a pioneer in the gasoline pump industry and most recently by the Fort Wayne Police Department is the fact that the city, with the help of a $530,000 federal grant, would pay for the demolition and restoration of the grounds for use by the adjacent Renaissance Pointe YMCA. No argument there; if the buildings can't be reused — and preservationists won a last-minute reprieve Friday — the Hanna-Creighton neighborhood will be served better by additional recreational opportunities than by the continued presence of increasingly blighted structures.

But here's the point: The buildings are owned by the McMillen Foundation, which has assets of about $35 million. And the city's Metropolitan YMCA lists assets of about $55.5 million. If the public will benefit from the project, those organizations stand to benefit even more directly. So why are taxpayers set to foot the bill?

If McMillen took the buildings down, it would take away funding from Wildcat (baseball) and other charitable programs, city spokeswoman Mary Tyndall said. As for the YMCA, she added, it "was asked to partner with the city and the McMillen Foundation and was not asked to pay for the property. They are being a great partner and providing an important re-use for the property."

But what about that $530,000 in federal community development block grant funds? Couldn't those dollars — like the foundation's — have been used for something else?

"Those dollars could possibly be used in another way but only in that neighborhood," Tyndall said. "The city believes it's important to use the funds in this manner because otherwise the building will continue to deteriorate and have negative impacts on the area."

That how economics normally works. Money is finite, and priorities must be established. Millions of local and federal dollars have already been spent in the neighborhood on everything from new homes to the imminent redevelopment of the old Coke plant on Pontiac Street, and if city planers really believe removing obsolete buildings represents the best use of those dollars, I'll not second-guess them. I won't even begrudge the foundation and the YMCA their willingness to allow government to do something for them they might have done for themselves. That's how human nature works.

In Washington, however, only one of those real-world principles reliably applies. Government subsidies are not only expected but demanded as "entitlements," but as the debate over health-care reform and President Trump's proposed budget has made clear, the benefits are supposed to come without pain or cost. For example, it was reported this week that illegal immigrants are going hungry because they fear collecting food stamps could result in deportation. Few have stopped to ask why people in the country illegally qualify for welfare in the first place. And why should they? Just as Fort Wayne has spared the foundation and the YMCA a choice, the ability to borrow and print more and more money has done the same for dependents of federal largess.

But is it really necessary, or even healthy? In the wake of Trump's election, donations to progressive groups such as Planned Parenthood surged. The president's supporters responded in kind when some stores dropped "Trump" merchandise to avoid controversy: They bought more of it. The message is: When Americans value something, they're willing to pay for it if necessary.

In this case, let's hope the folks who have been talking about the need to save the Bowser buildings will finally step up and do it — even though government subsidies would probably be needed for that, too.



This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.


 

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