Look at positive economics of a waterfront park

'Another Voice'

By SPENCER BERRY

Special to the News

No marketing strategy for Oregon would be complete without focusing on tourism. Tourism is our third biggest industry. Yet the amount of money we devote to promoting tourism puts us in the bottom third of states (Oregon actually ranks 46th in per capita spending on tourism marketing). That makes no sense. For every dollar we invest in promoting these environmental and artistic treasures — we get three dollars back. That is a good deal by anyone’s definition. And that’s why selling Oregon as a tourist destination is as important to me as selling Oregon as business destination.”

— Governor Ted Kulongoski, State of the State Address, Feb. 21, 2003

Given a 300 percent return on investment, we can’t afford to do anything that would jeopardize the tourism industry, and we should be doing everything we can to promote it.

Attraction of New Businesses

Most tourists come to Hood River, spend some money, and go home. Some tourists like Hood River so much that they come back, and bring their business with them.

According to studies reported in the Journal of Business Research and the Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, small businesses ranked recreation, parks and open space first among quality-of-life elements in location decisions. Several types of businesses also rated the general issue of quality of life as significantly more important than other factors, such as government incentives or availability of labor According to Dr. John L. Crompton of Texas A&M University: “The study does demonstrate that recreation, parks and open spaces are important in attracting small businesses, and areas which fail to recognize this are likely to lose them to cities that emphasize these amenities.”

Attraction of Wealthy Retirees

A relatively new industry has been recognized by economists in this country called “Retirement Migration.”

The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by the year 2050, approximately 1 in every 4 Americans will be 65 years of age or older. That’s a significant percentage of the population, and many of them have the flexibility to relocate anywhere they choose.

Why do we want to attract affluent retirees?

If 100 retired households come to a community in a year, each with a retirement income of $40,000, their impact is similar to that of a new business spending $4 million annually in the community. They increase the tax base and are “positive” taxpayers, using fewer services than they pay for through taxes.

For example, they pay taxes to school districts but do not send children there (Note: wealthy people who own expensive vacation homes in Hood River are also very “positive” taxpayers.) Retirees transfer significant assets into local investment and banking institutions, expanding the local deposit base that can be used for commercial and industrial financing. Also, they don’t “take up” any of the available jobs.

How do we attract affluent retirees?

In a study by the Mississippi State Southern Rural Development Center, a retiree sample was asked to review 14 features and indicate their importance in the decision to move. The first three in rank order were: 1. scenic beauty; 2. recreational opportunities; 3. mild climate.

Enhancement of the Tax Base Through Raising Property Values

The Port of Hood River accurately points out that imposing building height restrictions on a given piece of property reduces the value of that piece of property. However, this detailed and factual analysis fails to consider the effect on adjacent property values. Empirical evidence shows us that by investing money in a park (i.e. building height equals 0), the value of the surrounding property is raised more than enough to offset the investment in the park. For example, after Centennial Olympic Park was built in Atlanta, Ga., adjacent condominium prices rose from $115 to $250 a square foot.

As a historic example, consider Central Park in New York City. In 1856 Frederick Law Olmsted proposed that New York City remove 10,000 parcels of land from its development plan to create a very large public park. Many people thought this would be a poor economic decision and the park proposal was very controversial. Eventually Olmsted convinced the city that the increased value of adjacent property would justify the costs, and Central Park was built. It worked. Prior to Central Park the three wards adjacent to the area provided less than 8 percent of the city’s tax revenues. After Central Park, those wards provided 33 percent of New York City’s tax revenue despite the fact that 10,000 parcels were removed from the tax rolls.

From 1856 to 1873 Olmsted tracked the value of property immediately adjacent to Central Park, in order to justify the $13 million spent on its creation. He found that over the 17-year period there was a $209 million increase in the value of the property impacted by the park, which provided tax revenues of $4 million more than the annual debt payments for the land and improvements. During this time, New York City was in the midst of one of the most severe economic depressions in our nation’s history. Countless financial institutions went bankrupt. There was widespread civil unrest and high poverty. However, as a result of building Central Park, New York City made a profit.

Why can’t we have a park on Lot 6?

The very expensive renovation to downtown Hood River didn’t cost taxpayers a dime. The waterfront landfill project didn’t cost taxpayers a dime.

Private investors in cities around the country have financed large, expensive public parks and recouped their investment by developing the surrounding land, at no cost to taxpayers. The City of Mosier received $488,900 in grant money to build a waterfront park. The Dalles received $1,145,620 in grant money for their riverfront trail.

The Port received an offer by a local private investor that would have built a park along the north side of Portway Ave. at absolutely no cost to taxpayers.

Why is the Port scaring us into thinking that if we build a park on Lot 6, our struggling citizens will be unemployed, homeless and hungry due to the costs of building and maintaining a park?

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Spencer Berry lives in Hood River.

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