In this Friday’s Quincy Herald Whig there were two letters to the editor regarding the Newcomb hotel and downtown Quincy in general. The first was from Tom Hilbing, owner of Hilbing Autobody. He wrote to thank the City Officials for how they have handled everything from the fire fighting efforts to the street closures. It was a very nice letter.
Below that was a letter from Mr. Chad Fuller, which I would like to take a minute to comment on. In case you missed Mr. Fuller’s letter, here it is:
Let me start by saying that I agree that the City should be involved in street repairs, sidewalk improvements and any other number of other areas of public infrastructure. However, I would argue that maintaining a safe, vibrant building stock throughout the community is something the City needs to be involved with. The level of involvement can and should be debated, but to say the City should not be concerning itself with redevelopment is misguided. The City needs to be involved. Being involved makes the City more open to developers and helps to keep Quincy growing.
Since the fire there have been many people who have suggested that the city should be out of the loan business. It’s important to understand a few key points when it comes to the loan Mr. Horowitz received and the loan process today. The money that was leant to Mr. Horowitz was from a grant obtained many administrations ago that was given to the city for the sole purpose of loaning to developers for properties such as the Newcomb. This wasn’t a deal where the city opened up the general fund for a project. They were, and remain, funds specifically to prompt development within the City of Quincy. I don’t think you would have anyone in the current (or the previous for that matter) administration argue that we should give individual loans with no personal guarantee anymore, as was the case with the Newcomb. However, Quincy changed their loan procedure years ago. A loan like the one given to Mr. Horowitz wouldn’t be done today. Today, participation loans with a bank are the standard operating procedure when city loan funds are disbursed. This requires bank participation and also ensures that the bank has done the due diligence on the loan because, as Mr. Fuller pointed out, the “city of Quincy is not a bank”.
As for the insurance, this is unfortunate. I’m not sure how the building wasn’t insured and why the City wasn’t aware it. I am sure more will come out on this in the coming weeks, but until more is known I will reserve judgement on this aspect of the problem.
There has been a sentiment as of late, and especially since the fire that downtown is somehow neglected or empty. Let me share some facts about downtown Quincy in the past few years. Since 2009, the District has seen a net (yes net) increase of more than 70 businesses and has an occupancy rate of 93%. I don’t know that any part of our community has experienced the growth that downtown has had over the past few years. Yes, in Quincy our “Big Boxes” are on East Broadway. That’s the current model for a “box”, but did you know that many “boxes” are actually changing their business model in cities across the country because they have discovered what we already know – that downtowns are more community-friendly options?
I have heard people in recent years say that the City should end the revitalization efforts downtown, that we aren’t going to succeed. I believe these individuals are wrong, and that we already are. The community should have, as Mr. Fuller says, a “love affair” with downtown. For several reasons. Downtown is pedestrian friendly, home to over 580 small businesses which employ over 8000 citizens of our community. Downtown has amazing architecture, community history, and contributes a great deal in giving our community personality. Downtown is home to countless community events, wonderful restaurants, nightlife and so much more. When a downtown thrives, the entire community thrives. Therefore, I believe very strongly that our community should have a love affair with downtown and I for one am proud to.
Many feel that the city should not be in the business of revitalizing old buildings. I would like to know if those individuals are aware that the vast majority of building rehabilitations occur with private dollars? I would like to know if they realize that when the City does invest dollars in the downtown they have a higher return on investment than in any other part of the city? In fact, the City of Quincy since 1994 has seen a $16 return for every $1 spent on public projects within the downtown. In that time, the City has spent $9.9M and seen a return of over $162M in private development. I think those are numbers that everyone in Quincy should be proud of. In talking to my colleagues throughout the country I can assure you they would love to see results like that in their community. Quincy is fortunate to have so much private development occurring, and small amount the city invests to further this development is money incredibly well spent.
I agree with Mr. Fuller that the city should have referred Mr. Horowitz to the bank and not structured the loan like they did. However, that was ten years ago. They made a deal they thought would work, it didn’t. Errors were made along the way, some were corrected some weren’t. To use this one example and say that the City should extricate themselves from the loan process and redevelopment efforts would be throwing the baby out with the bath water. It discounts all the other positive things that have occurred because of the loan programs and other community development efforts. Yes, this loan was a bad one but they have changed the entire procedure.
I do hope that everyone in Quincy takes an opportunity to appreciate what a truly impressive downtown we have. Start to admire the magnificent architecture that our community has to offer. Stop at a local restaurant and experience some of the best dining in town. Talk to a business owner and see what they think about being in the downtown. The more you experience our downtown, the more you will realize what a treasure we have right here in the heart of the Gem City.
-Travis M. Brown, Executive Director