Chamber of Commerce committee hears enhanced enterprise zone presentations

Thursday, May 3, 2012 | 6:16 p.m. CDT; updated 10:04 p.m. CDT, Thursday, May 3, 2012

COLUMBIA — A political action committee opposed to establishing an enhanced enterprise zone in the city declined to present its views today to a sub-group of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber's Government Affairs Committee held a members-only discussion Thursday afternoon on the issue. It invited representatives from Regional Economic Development Inc., or REDI, the primary proponents of an enhanced enterprise zone, and from Citizens Involved and Invested in Columbia, or CIVIC, a group formed to fight the designation of large portions of the city as blighted or possessing conditions that lead to blight.

The blight designation is one step in the process of applying to the state for the creation of an enhanced enterprise zone.

Chamber President Don Laird said the Government Affairs Committee intended to decide whether to recommend an enhanced enterprise zone to the Chamber's board of directors, who then would choose whether to endorse the tax incentive program.

"An endorsement from us simply shows our membership is supportive," Laird said. 

CIVIC members, however, decided the parameters of the discussion weren't for them.

"We feel it's not appropriate to present at this," Nancy Harter of CIVIC said. "It's kind of a closed house in there. It does not represent the community. We know the chamber has a certain way of doing things."

Harter said any discussion of the enhanced enterprise zone issue needs to be public.

"This is a very important thing that could happen to our city," Harter said. "What is put forth should be open."

Harter said CIVIC was concerned that the Government Affairs Committee's recommendation to the board of directors — and its subsequent decision about whether to endorse an enterprise zone — would not adequately reflect the opinions of the entire chamber membership.

"It's not appropriate for a group within an organization to speak for the entirety of that organization by fiat," Harter said.

CIVIC formed in response to the resolution passed by City Council on Feb. 6 that designated more than half of the city as blighted or possessing conditions that lead to blight. Since then, CIVIC has pushed for the City Council to rescind that resolution and introduce an ordinance that would reconsider the proposed enhanced enterprise zone map and allow public discussion.

The City Council is scheduled to discuss the repeal of the resolution Monday night.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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Mark Foecking May 4, 2012 | 5:55 a.m.

I don't think we should push for the EEZ if it has not been shown to be a job creator, but I find no evidence of an increase in eminent domain use in them. These zones are very common (if this is accurate):

and I would think if there was evidence of an increase in eminent domain because of blight designation, that I could find some hard evidence for it. Eminent domain can proceed without a blight designation, and instances of eminent domain attempts in Columbia are quite uncommon (one every 10 or so years on the average).

Same thing with property values. No one in these other zones seems to be complaining that their property has lost value being in one of these zones.

And yes, I know absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. But as active as the commerce and real estate types are at promoting their interests, I'd think we'd hear a lot of complaining from these areas if property values were significantly negatively affected.

I'm not sure that this is a big deal one way or another.


(Report Comment)
Mike Martin May 4, 2012 | 9:00 a.m.

Not sure where you are looking for evidence of eminent domain abuse, but there is plenty of it, most connected with blight decrees tied up with whatever pretty bow local authorities wish to use. EEZ is the bow of the moment, but there are many others.

Missouri is widely regarded as the most abusive state with respect to eminent domain in the nation.

Blight designations in Missouri are the single most powerful first step toward the use of eminent domain. Blight became this powerful legal beast, as it were, with its incorporation into the early Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority (LCRA) statutes.

The rise of the LCRA in Missouri was a sort of second Jim Crow for black communities across the state, as their use against black home and business owners resulted in the wholesale destruction of property rights for several generations.

The EEZ statute is merely a 21st century update of the old LCRA, many believe an even prettier bow necessitated by political considerations. It was easy to steal land from black communities; it's much harder to steal land from white communities. EEZ is merely lipstick on the Blight pig designed to make the theft more politically palpable, the argument goes.

If you want evidence of eminent domain abuse, contact the law firm of Denlow and Henry in St. Louis, which specializes in it. Contact the Missouri DED ombudsman for property rights. Contact Missouri Citizens for Property Rights. And so forth. There are dozens of groups and organizations in Missouri dedicated to battling this problem, which happens in EEZ, TIF, LCRA, and other economic incentive zones that include blight decrees.

There are related stories below, including one about a documentary on Missouri eminent domain abuse aptly titled "Begging for Billionaires."

Law firms and organizations:

(Report Comment)

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