In my February post I alluded to a phenomenon called “pleasing the paymaster.” In this case, I hate being right. As the speaker for the Lakota group was reviewing results, it was obvious the statistics were being interpreted in a way that skewed toward the preconceived results that were preordained before the study even started. Granted, there were some window dressing suggestions made by the people who actually own the property but, by and large, the findings and the recommendations were what KABA wanted. The Lakota Group pleased the paymaster.
Of course, I can be seen as biased where the theater project is concerned, and I don’t deny that but, when you look at the results of the surveys and the previous workshops, where the theater was the third vote getter in the “Kenosha Bucks” exercise (you wouldn’t know it from the way the statistics were skewed in the presentation last night) and is constantly is brought up by the people participating, you’d think the theatre didn’t exist in the presentation. As I listened to the Lakota group speaker talk about the need for a business plan and the need to know about the market potential, I began to wonder if they ever got the huge packet of information that we dropped off at KABA that explained the business plan that was designed by the founder of Cleveland’s Playhouse Square. I wondered if they had ever seen the results of the market survey that the University of Wisconsin did that showed the restored theater would bring $7 to $10 million a year into the downtown alone through patrons spending on food and beverages alone. So, I told the Lakota Group representative point blank that I thought that the study was window dressing and a validation for KABA to pursue their preconceived ideas with the illusion of an area “buy-in”. After all, it is a $150,00 contract for this consulting firm, the results must “please the paymaster”. He gave me a little song and dance and was completely flummoxed when I showed him the business plan and the study results that I happened to bring to the meeting. He went and asked the lead consultant who told him that they were never given the information from KABA. What does that say about the integrity of the study? I can assume it was an innocent oversight by an overworked staff or a deliberate omission of relevant data that would skew things in a direction that weren’t in keeping with the desired findings.
A case in point about this “Corporate Headquarters” business in Kenosha. Did you know that Dubuque, Iowa spent $56,000 per employee of taxpayer money as part of the incentive program to lure IBM into their downtown? When I brought Dr. Ray Shepardson into meet with Todd Battle of KABA, We asked him point blank, what he thought was the most important thing that could happen downtown and he said ” We need to get a corporate headquarters downtown, I don’t see the theater as being that important to the development of downtown”. Ray and I were stunned. So far, the results of the survey validate my fears that this study is expensive “cover” for a conclusion that was known before the process began. The theater project outperformed a “corporate headquarters” strategy at every turn, when asking the stakeholders and the involved communtiy. But, for some reason, the “Core” of downtown was cut off at the block before the theater.
Please understand that I believe that many of the suggestions that actually came from the people involved are good ones, and where they fit into the preconceived agenda, they were mentioned and utilized in the plan. But overall, and we’re not done yet, I give the presentation and the findings a HUGE “F” There was NOTHING mentioned on strategy and who was going to follow through or PAY for this vision of things that don’t yet exist. There is an almost masturbatory infatuation with the value of the property where the current city hall sits, but come on! Is that where we need to begin? Let’s begin with the stuff we have, not the stuff that KABA thinks we need because they are in their little bubble of business helping business for the sake of business. What is good for a community is usually good for business. It doesn’t always work in reverse. I would rather see a plan that holds the desires of the actual property owners, the people that had enough faith in the downtown to actually invest in, in more reverence.
The overall plan is destined for a drawer or , if city council attempts to follow through on the plan as it is now, I know I and several others will be incredibly vocal on how this study process was flawed. A look at the proposal in its current form was laughable. Does Lou Perrine know that his gas station will be turned into housing? The findings from the 1991 study showed up again putting housing along the railroad tracks North of 52nd street . A water feature on the West side of the “Corporate Headquarters Crystal Extravaganza” must not have been researched into the expensive environmental issues regarding that parcel. The Lakota group must also not have been made aware of the history of the parcel.
I’m a big fan of the streetcar and its development. Especially because there is grant money available that can get $12 million dollars worth of expansion for $2 million. I agree with trying to brand the city and find a way to tie the Metra station to the bus station. These are low hanging fruit that can attract people to what we already have. What we already have is pretty damn cool if you ask me. This need to tear down the old and make way for the new is near insanity. Our “brand” is our heritage. We raze it for the new “Vanilla City, USA ” at the peril of losing our identity.
I overheard an employee of a city department talking to a citizen that was venting their frustration with the process and the outcome so far. The city employee, who shall not be named, said simply “This is a KABA Study” he/she looked at the person and continued “I needn’t say more.” The implication is simple. Even members of city departments know that the results are being steered.
So my take on this study is this, Put it in a drawer and let’s organize the group of property owners downtown and figure out what we can do together. Because participating in KABA’s circus has been an exercise in futility and is just another outside consultant getting paid to validate someones preconceived notions. We’ve had the “Illusion” of participation but, the findings so far miss the mark on so many levels it is almost embarrassing what ludicrous , pie in the sky results that “Pleasing the Paymaster” have wrought.
And Oh yes, this is just the very beginning of me getting very vocal about what a sham the process has been so far. I guess if I hadn’t met with KABA at the beginning , the results and the skewing wouldn’t have been so patently blatant. Yes, I might make some enemies because I’m not “playing the game”. To that I say “My hometown’s future is not a game, I will not sit by while what in my opinion is essentially corruption goes forward with a pat on the back and a “Job well done”, while a lazy city council views the results as gospel. They are not. They are tainted. I even got the impression from the representative of the Lakota Group that he couldn’t say certain things that he thought. That is the problem with “Pleasing the Paymaster.”
I can still be made to believe in the results. But, they can’t be the results that we have now. The renderings that were made earlier in the process and keep getting hauled out are bordering on ridiculous. So, either the Lakota group actually takes their data and actually creates new renderings that reflect the data collected by the participants. They also need to to a lot more research on the history and the potential hazards and context of the parcels they seek to transform.
Someone must also say plainly, “Who is going to pay for all of this?” At a time when corporations are sitting on more capital than at any time in our nation’s history, are taxpayers (who can least afford it) going to be asked to foot the bill for the “Incentives” to bring a huge private entity (that can most afford it) into an area? Bullshit.
I know that I will take hits for this will be seen as sour grapes because the theater didn’t get included in the “core” of the projects that should be done. I can answer that simply. You bet it is. When we gave KABA the market study and the business plan, we expected integrity and follow through. There are several good people that work at KABA and they should not take my rantings personally. Doing your job is simply that. But, KABA, for all the good things that they have done, has overstepped their position as the “paymaster”
We’ve all heard the story of the hired property appraiser nudging the property owner and asking “So what price do you want it to come in at?” While Lakota group may not have intentionally done it, the pressure from the people with the paycheck has shown through.