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Columbia Missourian

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Downtown Columbia does not need TIFs

By Fred DeMarco
October 11, 2012 | 1:01 p.m. CDT

This was originally published on the Columbia Heart Beat and submitted to the Missourian.

Downtown Columbia is the last place within a 100-mile radius that needs a tax-increment financing district.

I have been active in downtown real estate for the past 37 years. I took over the old Columbia Daily Tribune building in 1975 and turned it into Deja Vu, the comedy club. It was vacant for two years and in terrible shape. It is now home to the Candy Factory.

In 1997, a group of private investors saw that the Flat Branch area would be a growth area. I moved Deja Vu there in 1999 along with Premier Bank, Broadway Diner and Katy Station, which removed the railroad car and fixed the area up.

I have pictures of the area before this was done. If any part of downtown needed a TIF, this part did.

I bought an empty lot at the corner of Elm and Tenth streets in the late 90s. At the time, the area was surrounded by empty parking lots. I built a 25,000-square-foot building and now the area around it is built up with apartments.  A new building next to us on Ninth Street is going up and charging $35 per square foot.

This is big-city rent. And all this was done without a TIF.

I called a private TIF company and told them I was interested in getting a TIF for a development in Columbia. They said, "No problem."  I asked if they wanted to know where I wanted it and they said "If you have enough money, we can get you one in the middle of Faurot Field."

And I believe them!

This is big business. Check how many companies deal with obtaining TIFs for developers.

Investors made a bad investment with the TIF-subsidized Tiger Hotel when they bought it during the real estate boom and looked for a way to get out of it later.

Any other business people would have lowered the price to sell and taken their loss.  Instead, they came up with the TIF idea and convinced the right people. But most of the public has no idea how a TIF works, just like credit default swaps or other complicated financial tools used by the rich to make money — and confuse the normal person.

Additionally, how is the Tiger Hotel area blighted? (TIFs require a blight designation or language that says blight is imminent.) You cannot make this up. It is a joke. The Tiger Hotel sits next to the biggest bank in Columbia. Any person can write down 25 blighted areas in Columbia, and downtown Columbia is not one of them.

On top of this, the tax money for the TIF is taken from the schools and library. I developed three major areas in downtown and paid taxes on it. I am happy to do so.

Fred DeMarco is a Columbia resident.