Ranting

New Incentive, Old School Pork

October 25th, 2019

Pork Chop

 (published in The Daily Memphian)

There’s an old expression: If you want them to come, you got to hang a pork chop around your neck.

There’s as much truth as cynicism in that, but the implication is that the “them” referenced are reluctant to come or at least indifferent. That is not the case with too many of the pork chops we’re offering in Memphis, and far too few of us are benefiting.

Take last week’s example. Please.

A great big wealth management and brokerage firm – Raymond James, headquartered in St. Petersburg – gets in a fight with their great big landlord – Jacob Sofer, headquartered in New York – over elevators in their great big office building in downtown Memphis. Next thing you know, the Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) has given Raymond James $3,238,440 of yours and my money to move out of Downtown to East Memphis. The pork chop comes as a tax benefit PILOT (payment-in-lieu-of-taxes).

Sigh.

It’s not the size of it, that’s not really a lot of money as these pork chops go, it’s the smell of it. Raymond James was going to move anyway, not out of Memphis just somewhere else in Memphis. They were going to spend a lot of money to polish their shiny new digs anyway. They were going to expand anyway. You can bet that their new landlord in the Ridgeway Loop – Boyle –gave them a sweet deal on lots of empty space in not one but two buildings Raymond James is moving into. There’s nothing new about all of that or the wheeling and dealing involved. Boyle has been pulling people from Downtown to Ridgeway ever since they developed it and left Downtown themselves. Then this week we find out that Raymond James has an ownership position in the Ridgeway buildings. They didn’t tell EDGE about that.

Asking you and me to sweeten the deal with even a penny of the precious little tax resources we have, and then getting it, is shameful for all involved.

I’m not against EDGE or PILOTS. We have to have a full toolbox of incentives and smart, disciplined – independent – professionals to manage those tools according to plan. When we recently reversed the in-town space swap east-to-west with a massive incentives package, both local and state, for FedEx Logistics to move Downtown, I saw the benefit to all of us. The repurposing of a big abandoned Gibson building and the birth of something big and new on an ugly parking lot. The creation of real new jobs and revitalization of whole blocks in our urban core. No, FedEx didn’t need the money, but we needed FedEx, so you and I invested in our largest local employer.

This Raymond James thing is just moving offices, and it should have been no more than a transaction announcement. And just wait. The real irony comes later. Sofer will find someone to take the abandoned space, someone to erase the Raymond James name from 50 North Front Street and add their name to the building, and then they will ask you and me for money to help with the move into space we just paid somebody to move out of … and they’ll probably get it.

Even after almost 50 years in and around some of the biggest deals in town, I’m still surprised at how few people one has to know to pull something off in Memphis, and how many of those few names remain the same over the decades.

Surprised and sad.

I’m a Memphian, and some of our pork chops are just pork.

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