Guest Editorial: Find ‘remedy that grows, preserves, not destroys’

For those who do not know, the City Council will be discussing the possible use of eminent domain in February if it so happens that LANE4, the company contracted to revitalize Campustown, is unable to reach a settlement with all the property owners.

I must ask: Is this proposed project from LANE4 what’s best for the city? Is it best for the city to invoke eminent domain for economic development in an area that is not blighted, and where many successful local businesses are located? Is it best for the city to invoke eminent domain, not for public or civic use, but essentially for the purposes of handing privately-owned property over to an out-of-state company, so that they may bring in chain stores, or do with it as they please? Is it best for the city or the council to start deciding which businesses will be uprooted, which ones will be planted? Is it best for the city for the council to start deciding who gets to keep their livelihood and who doesn’t?

The more I think about it, the more one word comes to mind: risky. The precedent that such an act of council would set is risky, for it would mean that if one person wanted a plot of land or a competitor out of business, all they would need is four friends on the City Council. And the elimination of many successful local businesses, in favor of big box stores, is risky and some would say unjust. And furthermore, it is risky to gamble at such high stakes.

What happens if LANE4 goes bankrupt in the middle of construction? What happens if prospective tenants do not move in, or pull out at the last minute, or go bankrupt themselves? This happens more than you think; and, consequently, the city could be left with empty plots of land or empty buildings in Campustown difficult to fill. In effect, the city is gambling with our livelihoods, and they are gambling with the charm and culture of Ames. And for what? To bring in chain stores? Is the debatable economic development — especially when there are numerous other ways to bring in more revenue — really worth it?

Something is seriously wrong with this picture, especially when you consider that this is arguably not the best method for revitalization. There is prime under-utilized real estate all around Campustown. A few examples: the old Taco Bell and its parking lot; the house next to it; or the empty parking lot where the US Bank ATM is located. Or how about the hard-to-fill building where Planet Sub used to be located?

We need to expand Campustown. We need to expand to prepare for a continuously growing Ames and ISU; we need to expand to obtain more variety in Campustown; and we need to expand to better compete, in terms of retail, with other cities in Central Iowa. Above all, we need to find the remedy that grows and preserves, not destroys, Campustown, and the proposal from LANE4 is not it.