The words ‘money pit’ do not inspire much confidence around development circles.

Yet that is exactly what the Association Building is in danger of becoming if the city continues its role as real estate agent, developer and potentially tenant much longer.

With $800,000 already invested to stabilize the earthquake-damaged downtown building, the city could spend $1 million or $2 million more improving the building, which is now an empty shell sitting on Front Street.

Potential uses include relocating the city’s own Public Works building, creating high-end office space, or retail, according to Kathy Figley, the city’s mayor.

No way should the city invest potentially millions of dollars into what could end up being a public building. The city needs to cross that option off the list.

Nor should the city be in the real estate development business to begin with.

In a downtown where so many problems are evident, the city needs to stay focused on what it alone can do. That is to fix the streets and sidewalks and invest in the infrastructure of the area.

Make the area clean, attractive and safe so that private interests will be drawn to invest.

Focus on fixing First Street first, clear out criminal elements and become a motivated seller of the building. That will attract new businesses and investment into downtown. That will do the most to raise values around the district.

Bigger concerns appear to be slipping under the city’s radar: reports of decaying buildings downtown, including Figley’s own building on Grant Street, and the Pix Theater.

The mayor’s building, which has a façade that is visibly peeling away, has been fenced off to protect the public from falling objects.

Does Figley’s building exemplify the city’s commitment, or lack thereof, to urban renewal? Would the city take action to improve some downtown buildings if the mayor’s own building were not one of the worst?

We hope this is not the case. The city council should be able to find the best possible use for the Association Building by putting it up for sale. Let the open market be the decider on what to do with this property.

Does the city need to recoup its entire investment?

No way. As long as the offer includes some conditions for the developer not to sit on the building and leave it empty, there is no reason the city should not jump at an offer that comes its way.

We are nearing decision time on the Association Building. Use the results of this summer’s feasibility study to attract qualified buyers. Sell the building.

But do not continue pouring money into this empty shell. Do not let the building turn the city’s revitalization efforts away from more important needs.

Contract Publishing

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