I almost fell out of my chair laughing when I read the article in the Daily Times, “Fifth-Third building remains option for city hall.” One of our local developers said a deal that would put Portsmouth city operations into the current Fifth-Third Bank building on the Esplanade in downtown Portsmouth is still possible. Well, whoop-de-do, that makes me sleep better. And then he goes on to say one of the proposals on the table is assembling a group of investors to purchase the building, with Fifth-Third remaining in part of the first floor and paying rent. The owners/investors would then lease the remainder of the building to the city.
The developer also said, included in the lease is maintaining the HVAC and the roof repairs and maintenance. That way the city doesn’t come up with any cash. Mr. Developer, are you saying if the city pays their yearly lease, and gives the owners of the building the city is leasing from a tax abatement, the owners will fix up the heating and air conditioning plus a leaky roof? How could the city pass a deal like that up?
Hey, this article gets better. The developer wants the Marting’s Foundation to tear down the Marting’s building, which the city owns, and build a large public parking lot across the street from them. I would say they do. Everyone wants plenty of parking space; I wish I had a bigger driveway myself.
Now we get to what the developer calls Step Three, and that is to sell the existing city building on Second Street to a private developer. They could sell it for whatever they can get for it at an auction, the developer said. “Whoever wants to buy it can buy it.” I bet the developer would go so far as raffling the city building off.
OK, it sounds like the developer’s plans for getting the city building might work, but to put more icing on the story, the developer tells us that Gov. John Kasich wants to help us by coming up with three or four 70-, 80-, 100-people companies, and bring them down here, and do something quick, the developer said. Shawnee State University is getting this deed to the Internet super-highway. There’s a lot of software companies; there’s insurance companies; there’s banks; there’s people that use the Internet. So what happens if we tear down the city building and build a nice new building on that property, and put in three or four floors of office space and tie into that Internet? The governor would then call up, say, a software company and tell them, “We have a university where we can train your people, and we’ve got a hundred gigabyte Internet, and we’ve got office space that is probably 30 percent cheaper than what it is where you are.
Now, Mr. Developer, let me tell you what I think about your bogus story. Your story is nothing but a sham to get the city building. You know our city is in a deficit and probably will be for a few years or more. Why would you want the city to lease something that they will never own? That might be good for a business but not a city that’s broke. And then you say with the lease we get free roof repair and free HVAC service. Hello, Mr. Developer, show me a lease that doesn’t have this. Out of one side of your mouth you want the Marting’s Foundation to tear down the Marting’s building and build a large public parking lot on that property. Out of the other side of your mouth you say John Kasich wants to help us by coming up with three or four 70-, 80-, 100-people companies, and bring them down here, and do something quick. Wouldn’t something quick be using the Marting’s building? That would put more people in the downtown area. This would be a big asset to Portsmouth. You want to pull the wool over our eyes by saying let’s tear down the city building and build a three- or four-story office building. That’s a bunch of bologna and you know it. We already have an office building there and you want it out of there. Do you really think our city government is stupid enough to fall for something like this?
Now let me give you my scenario for the city building. This property is more valuable than any place in Portsmouth. It sits on the banks of the beautiful Ohio River. This property has great potential for anything you want to build — casino or whatever. Developers are drooling at the mouth to get this property. Are we going to let some rich developer steal this property from us and make a profit? Or are we going to use this property to benefit the city of Portsmouth? I think our city government should find out what the cost of a new city building would be, figure out how much it’s going to cost to get us out of our deficit, and the cost of fixing our streets, and whatever the total is, that will be the price of the city building. The city building is Portsmouth’s little gold mine. Let’s call it the City’s Lifeline for the Future.
Now, Mr. Developer, go get that group of investors you were talking about. But this time, tell them to bring their checkbooks, because our city’s not going to buy any buildings for them, and the city building has a price tag. It’s not free. I also think I’m speaking for the citizens of Portsmouth.