In the best of times, a city government spending $2.1 million to renovate a government owned building to facilitate a restaurant would be tough to justify. But given the facts surrounding the City of Tallahassee’s venture into what is now called the Brew Pub at Cascades Park, it is hard to believe that the City Commission could vote 5-0 to move forward with such a project.
Understand, it is not hard to believe that City Commissioners would support using funds from the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) to get into the restaurant business. They have already invested your tax money in hotels, student housing projects, and commercial office space. But could they vote to use sales tax dollars earmarked for public works projects to build a restaurant? Sadly, the answer is yes.
Last year the CRA voted to spend approximately $800,000 to renovate the Old Electric Building located in Cascades Park to accommodate a restaurant. The original investment of CRA funds turned out not to be sufficient to properly fund the project. But this did not deter the City.
When an analysis determined that more money was needed for this venture, the City Commission voted on July 10, 2013 to move $1.3 million in funds left over from public works projects to the Brew Pub project. Yes, tax money dedicated to improving roads and our City’s infrastructure is being used to finance a restaurant.
This transfer of your tax dollars comes during a budget cycle that started with a $5 million deficit that will ultimately be addressed by an increase in the gas tax and a delay in hiring additional police officers.
Raise taxes, cut police officers…..and build a restaurant!
And that’s not all. The fact that the original bid winner pulled out of the project did not deter the City either. Instead of rebidding the project, the City Commission voted 5-0 to sign a contract with a new business entity that was created 10 days before the vote to add an additional $1.3 million to the project budget. And by the way, the owner of this new business entity is the campaign treasurer for Mayoral candidate Andrew Gillum.
Beyond the budget implications and the insider dealings, this project is a text book example of the consequences of government getting into a business that operates just fine in the free market.
First, there is the irony of restaurant owners in Leon County paying taxes that go to fund a business that will be their competition. And then there is the City spending on food.
The City of Tallahassee spends approximately $130,000 a year on food. Several different vendors provide the food. However, one must ask, if the City has a vested interest in a restaurant, does this mean they will start buying food from “their” restaurant at the expense of other restaurants they have traditionally supported?
Ironically, it was Commissioner Gillum that voted to tear down the building years ago because it was not worth saving. But he lost that vote. And now he has to deal with a project that could be a poster child for crony capitalism, even though, personally, he has no financial interest in the restaurant.
Look, lots of people want to go to a place where everyone knows their name, but the City Commissioners, led by Commissioner Andrew Gillum, need to do the right thing and pull the plug on the Brew Pub!