I suspect some of my readers are expecting an opinion on last night's vote by the Greensboro City Council to make loans to developers to help renovate large, vacant retail buildings. And truth be told, I just don't know what to think. I don't like our city being littered with empty old buildings where Darwin Award nominees electrocute themselves trying to steal the copper wiring any more than anyone else but I'm simply not sure what the solution is.
If the buildings are renovated will the developers be able to rent them or will there still be no demand for them causing the developers to default on the loans leaving the taxpayers stuck with the bills?
Is this just a bail out to the developers who built those buildings in the first place? You know, the developers who currently own the buildings but can't find anyone who can afford to pay their rental rates? What? You didn't really believe the big box retailers owned those buildings, did you? No, they rent them so they aren't stuck with them after they skip the neighborhood.
I'm wondering if perhaps zoning isn't the real issue. For example: A number of years back a friend and former employer of mine bought an old K-mart building in Greensboro with the intention of putting a used auto parts business entirely inside the building. From a sales stand point it was a gold mine. From an environmental standpoint... Well, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources loved the idea as everything would be contained inside the building where there would be no risk of runoff. But alas, Greensboro and Guilford County zoning prohibitions were iron clad and neither were willing to bend forcing my friend to sell his newly acquired K-mart building to one of Greensboro's connected developers at a loss.
Not to be deterred, my friend eventually opened up a used auto parts business outside of Greensboro and rakes in a few $Million Dollars a year that Greensboro cannot tax. Seems to me if zoning rules were a bit more flexible we might not have so many empty big box retail buildings and a few less environmental issues to deal with. Maybe, if business other than churches, retailers and offices were allowed to operate in those same spaces they wouldn't set empty forever.
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