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Bull Street Going Bust?

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ANOTHER GOVERNMENT-FUNDED “ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT” DEBACLE FOR COLUMBIA, S.C.

For years, this website has spoken out against the costly government subsidization of Columbia, South Carolina’s Bull Street redevelopment – an attempt by city officials to transform a long-abandoned state mental health facility into the “center of a new downtown.”

Often, we’ve been quite blunt in our criticism of this project – and with good reason, it turns out.

“This boondoggle – already set to deprive taxpayers of more than $70 million – represents everything that’s wrong with government, as not a penny of its massive price tag goes toward anything resembling a core function of government,” we wrote a little over a year ago.

We also reminded readers at the time that not a single one of the forty-plus stores and restaurants promised by developer Bob Hughes in November 2014 had located on the property.

Nonetheless corrupt city leaders led by Columbia mayor Steve Benjamin – with the enthusiastic support of the subservient local mainstream media – blew tax dollars on it anyway.  They also built the only “business” currently in operation at this site – a government-subsidized baseball park.

Not surprisingly that project went way over budget – with taxpayers picking up the tab for the overrun (at a time when core services were being woefully underfunded).

Our founding editor Will Folks paid a visit to the site last summer and took a few pictures of the desolation …

(Click to view)

(Pics: Sic)

Veteran readers of this website will notice that things on the site look every bit as dilapidated in those images (taken on June 26, 2016) as they did when we visited the complex way back in November of 2012.

So … what gives?  It’s now 2017.  Have any of the lofty promises for this development come to pass?  Have any of the forty-one businesses touted by Hughes opened on the site?  Or even begun construction?  Or even been publicly identified?

Is Bull Street still happening?  Or is this another taxpayer debacle on the scale of “Innovista” – a government-subsidized “research campus” which similarly drained tens of millions of city (and state) tax dollars on unkept “economic development” promises?

Sadly, it’s looking increasingly like the latter …

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“EXACTLY ZERO …”

In this week’s editions of The (Columbia, S.C.) Free Times, guest columnist Kevin Fisher tells us the brutal truth about the status of this development.

“Exactly zero of those forty-one stores and restaurants have opened. Or started construction. Or even been identified,” Fisher wrote.

Unreal …

“The sad fact is that what is now known as the Commons at BullStreet has been uncommonly unsuccessful to date in living up to its public announcements when it comes to the shopping and dining mecca we were promised,” he added.

That’s putting it politely …

(Click to view)

(Pic via Sic)

Quoting a November 2014 article appearing in the uber-liberal government mouthpiece known as The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper, Fisher cited Hughes’ promises of “signed letters of intent to locate” at the complex from forty-one businesses representing “everything from 1,000-square-foot coffee shop size retailers to 60,000-square-foot national retailers.”

The story added that “Hughes at first predicted it would take 20 years to build out the entire 165-acre site … (but) says now he has gotten so much interest from retailers, hoteliers and residential and office developers that it could take just half that time.”

Tick-tock, tick-tock …

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WARNINGS UNHEEDED … 

Like the late Columbia, S.C. city councilwoman Leona Plaugh – who wisely cautioned against this scam – we repeatedly urged city of Columbia leaders not to support this redevelopment.

So did the city’s own lawyers, actually.

“We have an ethical duty to advise that the Bull Street Development Agreement, as currently drafted, exposes the City of Columbia to significant legal and financial risks,” a memorandum from a pair of city attorneys noted in July 2013 memo.

The attorneys were ignored.  Plaugh was ignored.  We were ignored.

Instead, the developer, the mayor and the media rammed their project through … because at the time there weren’t enough members of city council willing to stand for the taxpayers against such costly speculative gambles.

Where does the gamble stand now?

We asked Hughes’ political and media advisor, liberal Republican consultant Bob McAlister, what the deal was with the project.  Perhaps not surprisingly, he was not immediately forthcoming with a response, but in the event he offers anything by way of an explanation we will be sure to let our readers know.

Hell, we’ll even let him – or Hughes – run a column if they wish.

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WINNERS AND LOSERS …

“Leave it to government to turn selling a surplus asset into a money-losing proposition,” we wrote of this property back in 2012.

Indeed … but whether ventures like this are “winners” or “losers” for the investors, it doesn’t change the fact that at least one group of taxpayers loses out whenever they are compelled to subsidize such projects against their will.

This is why our website has opposed government-subsidized economic development on principle – because it is inherently unfair to take money from one group of taxpayers/ businesses and hand it over to another.

Oh, and as an “economic development” strategy guess what: It doesn’t work.

“We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: It is not government’s job to grow the economy,” we wrote last summer in lamenting lackluster economic growth in the Palmetto State.  “Government’s job is simple (and limited).  It exists to protect liberty and private property and to promote prosperity for all people by allowing the free market to do its job.”

It’s been more than two decades since the Bull Street state government complex was shuttered.  And it has been more than a decade since former S.C. governor Mark Sanford called for the unused property to be sold – with the assets going to state taxpayers.  And finally, as of this writing, it has been more than four years since taxpayers were fed all sorts of promises about this development – including two years since they were given very specific promises about its future.

So far, all of it has been a lie.  And a costly one at that.

(Banner via Sic)

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