Based on pre-vote intel, it was pretty clear that the City Commission was going to vote to move forward with the million dollar investment in what has become known as the Brew Pub in Cascades Park. What was not known was if there would be a discussion among the City Commissioners about the reasons why they would support the use of public dollars to help an entrepreneur finance a restaurant.
However, Commissioner Ziffer’s eloquent rationale on why he was voting against the project ensured such a discussion. Ziffer said the opinion of business people he checked with on the proposal offered by the developer and his personal view that a stand alone restaurant could not survive convinced him to vote no on the project.
But then it got sort of silly.
Most of those voting for the project chose to ignore the consequences of the public investment of $2.1 million, of which $600,000 would be spent directly on making the old electric building into a restaurant.
Commissioner Nancy Miller spoke about her love of old buildings and then said “this an experimental situation –almost like a teenager on probation.” Comforting words for the taxpayer.
Commissioner Maddox said, “I do not see a down side to approving this proposal.” How about the restaurant going belly up after six months and resulting in another taxpayer funded round of renovations for the next tenant?
Mayor Marks said “I see this as an opportunity to grow progressively.”
Commissioner Gillum then said something that did not entirely square with his vote for the project. First he said he talked to a restaurant owner about bidding on the project and the owner said he was not interested. And then Gillum added “That’s the only one I talked to.” What? Wouldn’t you check with other restaurant owners to gauge the risk of this project before spending taxpayer dollars?
But then it got interesting. Real interesting.
Commissioner Gillum continued to defend the Brew Pub and asked why this project was getting so much scrutiny. He argued that when local government voted to subsidize student housing on Gaines street, hotels in the downtown CRA, and office space in the Walgreens project there was no objection. Why now?
And you know…Gillum made a good point. The people he respects, the editorial writers at the Tallahassee Democrat and fellow elected official did not object to any of those other projects. And those projects required close to $10 million in public subsidies.
So Commissioner Gillum, who is the heavy favorite to be Tallahassee’s next Mayor, chose to embrace the past to explain his vote on the Brew Pub.
This is good news for any of those insiders that own land in a CRA or have an idea that they can get moved on to the agenda through relationships with elected officials.
And bad news for the taxpayer.