Our Own Royko

Posted in News, Springfield on July 21st, 2014 by Brian

The Springfield News-Leader has a metro columnist now. His debut is entitled “Springfield as good a place as any“. Highlights:

Springfield, in my estimation, is as good a place as any. It’s got its own drama and history. It has highlights and faults.

It has culture and religion and art. And, if you’d prefer to avoid a 15-hour flight for comparisons, you can just take my word for it.

. . . .

I’m not saying I’ll never leave Springfield, but it’s got enough to continue my curiosity, for awhile.

This piece, by way of introduction, is to explain what I’m doing as the News-Leader’s metro columnist.

I am pretty sure he’s serious.

The newspaper, meanwhile, is almost to the point of its distributors taping it to rocks and throwing it through living room windows.

Alternative Headline: Downtown Springfield About To Be Overbuilt

Posted in Springfield on May 27th, 2014 by Brian

City Sees Private Investment Boom In Downtown Springfield:

The sights and sounds of construction are hard to miss across downtown Springfield, and city officials say that’s because private investment has hit a high.

The city’s Economic Development division put out a “Heat Map” that shows development in the Queen City of the Ozarks’ urban core has been red-hot — far more concentrated than any other part of town — since the beginning of last year.

“It does seem like ‘boomtown’ in downtown Springfield with all the construction going on everywhere,” Economic Development Director Mary Lilly Smith said. “This is probably the largest investment we’ve seen for maybe 100 years.”

More than $230 million dollars has been spent on downtown development. Smith said more than $125 million more is in the pipeline, as some of the city’s most iconic structures are getting complete renovations.

Hopefully, the supply for housing and retail downtown will not outstrip the demand, which could lead to boom and bust sorts of cycles that you see in St. Louis, which are not so much boom and bust as public financing and bust. That is, hopefully the people pouring private money into downtown won’t find that they’re completing projects simultaneously and are competing for the same limited number of tenants and retailers so that the prices decline, buildings go into foreclosure, and nice renovations start getting decrepit quickly.

What sometimes then happens is the government starts flinging tax dollars at developers, businesses, sports teams, and whatnot to get them to stay/build in downtown, and each major development is going to return the city to its glory days and the news stories are all positive (but the demand for housing and retail remains almost the same). When the public money dries up. the new structures fall into disrepair and disuse until such time as more public money flows….

Look, that’s the Story of St. Louis. That city has been on the verge of a major reawakening every decade or so when St. Louis Centre, the new convention center and football stadium, the renovation of Union Station, and so on. Every time the big public spending binge (including tax credit programs and advertising campaigns), there’s a blip, and then it returns to normal.

Because cities don’t grow because the capacity for growth is built. Cities grow because businesses grow there and because people move to be near those jobs. St. Louis has shed a lot of employers over the years, and cupcake shops are not going to make up form manufacturing or middle management cubicle farms. Employers in the St. Louis region have better places to go, including the county, where the cost of business is lower and the parking is free and plentiful.

Springfield is still a growing regional hub, with transportation networks centered in the city or just outside and growing medical facilities that draw people in from all over southwest Missouri and northwestern Arkansas. Additionally, lower labor costs (and no pesky income tax) There might, might be enough demand to keep it growing and to avoid the cycle St. Louis experiences. If Springfield can keep its government in check and not get in the way of the organic processes that create employment and grow cities.

But that’s a big if, and Springfield government (and Greene County government) are amusing themselves with various commissions and tax credit schemes that could very well tamp its growth in the middle and long term.

The Bed of Nails Tax Was Not On The Ballot

Posted in Springfield, Taxes on May 15th, 2014 by Brian

Hotel Motel Tax Builds Bed of Nails at Discovery Center:

Each year visitors to Springfield pay a small tax when they stay at a hotel or motel.

Some of those dollars are earmarked for the Wonders of Wildlife museum.

And even though museum doors have been closed since 2007, taxes are still collected.

The funds collected prior to 2011 have been donated back into the community, but the money collected since then is now being split up between nonprofits in Springfield.

Each year about 300,000 dollars will be available for projects that promote tourism and education.

In 2013, the first year for this program, four local organizations received funds, including the Discovery Center.

It’s not the most comfortable bed, but it’s more for education than rest.

The newest feature at the Discovery Center is called the Bed of Nails.

When these hospitality taxes are put on the ballot, as they often are, they’re often pitched as ways to get people to visit your fair municipality. They’re not often cast as ways to soak non-residents to subsidize a selected industry and to provide fungible funds for frivolity, but that’s what they are in truth.

Do you think you could get a Bed of Nails Tax on the ballot and to pass? Of course not.

Do you think you could get this sort of tax repealed? Of course not. After all, non-residents who pay this tax don’t get to vote, and the regional chamber of commerce and hospitality trade organizations and lobbyists will be present and loud in support of it.

This ratchet so often turns but one way.

The Governance Dilemma

Posted in Springfield on May 14th, 2014 by Brian

The same-old, same-old budgetary woes: No easy choice in budget options to fund public safety:

To get more cops on the street, should Springfield leaders freeze raises for city employees? Should they cut funding to homeless shelters and other nonprofits?

Or should they slash a projected upgrade in insurance coverage — leaving the city open, city staffers say, to significant liability in the event of a multi-million dollar lawsuit?

Which is more important, the basic functions of government or doling out money to the politically active?

To be fair, the city manager did lay out some budgetary options that include cancelling travel for employees and stopping spending money on lobbyists who agitate on the city’s behalf in Jefferson city in addition to raising taxes and fees. Actual elected officials also proposed cutting things like the Mayor’s Commission for Children. So fiscal sanity and prioritization are not completely dead in this corner of the state.

But I’d expect the eventual solution will be another sales tax increase on the ballot to fund the core business of government while the Mayor’s Commission on Children and block grants to charities are never subject to direct voter approval.

Springfield Building Streets to Serve Bicyclists and Pedestrians

Posted in Springfield on April 16th, 2014 by Brian

Roundabout to slow traffic for pedestrians, bicyclists:

Drivers turning onto the westbound lane of Walnut Lawn Street from National Avenue will be met with “road closed” signs through next week.

Just down the road, crews are constructing a roundabout intersection at Walnut Lawn and Maryland Avenue.

. . . .

A traffic stop was not an option for the intersection. Gugel said the roundabout was the best option for making the street safe for pedestrians and bicyclists and will allow traffic to travel “fairly uninterrupted.”

Right. It’s going to bollix travel for automobile drivers, but that’s okay. Commissions and committees have proven that people who sit on commissions and committees, not to mention the urbanist consultants putting out thousands of dollars of reports, all favor riding bikes. And urbanists who love their bikes and dog parks attend government meetings.

So the future of governments will continue to be written by people who like government. And drivers who just want to go from the Walmart to the car wash at the end of Walnut Lawn will have to go around in circles to please them.

This…. Was…. Springfield!

Posted in Springfield on April 9th, 2014 by Brian

The “Caring” Bunny is coming to the local mall.

Running on the Orwellian Ticket

Posted in Springfield on March 20th, 2014 by Brian

Apparently, there’s a Congressional candidate running the Democratic primary for MO-7 who has a way with words:

I am not a conventional candidate. I’m a progressive conservative who believes we must build the future by honoring and learning from our past.”

Unfortunately, it’s an Orwellian way with words.

If you read his policy positions, it’s Democrat all the way down except for being a gun-rights supporter. Probably a reasonable gun rights supporter.

Now, if only he could get Claire McCaskill to run an ads calling him too conservative for Missouri to help him out in the election.

Lileks Visits Springfield (Virtually)

Posted in Springfield on January 3rd, 2014 by Brian

In today’s Bleat, James Lileks puts up a picture of the Country Club Center on Glenstone here in Springfield, but says:

I forgot to copy the town, and have only the screen grab, and the newsletter is at the office, but otherwise I have all the information you need to enjoy . . .

Here’s the sign he favors:


View Larger Map

You might remember I put up a picture of the Country Club Center in 2010.

Paging Dr. Gideon

Posted in Springfield on November 25th, 2013 by Brian

In addition to the normal collection of relatively recent celebrity magazines, the local doctor’s office affords a bit of heavier reading:

Quite opposites, the reading selections

Some people would be offended, no doubt, much like many people who would take umbrage when grocery store clerks or garage sale purveyors ask strangers if they have a “church home.”

But for the most part, those people do not yet live in Springfield or its environs.

As a wise man once quoted, “If you don’t give a heck about the man with the Bible in his hand, just get out the way and let the gentleman do his thing.”

Strangely Enough, ‘Critics’ Is Synonym For ‘Competition’

Posted in Springfield on August 19th, 2013 by Brian

Government action brings out the critics: Critics fear proposed Springfield ordinance could lead to billboard proliferation

The concerned? Those who already have billboards in Springfield:

Billed as a “business-friendly” revision of the city’s existing sign regulations, the proposed ordinance was the subject of an unexpected critique Aug. 12 as two local billboard owners warned that the new rules are too lenient.

“A whole lot of new billboards are going to be built here and in places and locations you might not want to have a billboard in,” said Greg Watkins, who worries a billboard boom could create a backlash.

Book Report: The Phantom of the Footbridge by Ron Boutwell (1999, 2006)

Posted in Book Report, Books, Springfield on July 30th, 2013 by Brian

Book coverI picked up this book at the local used bookstore in its local interest section, but it doesn’t seem to be available online even though Springfield is lousy with them. It was published by a local Christian theatre company, and its protagonist is a young pastor who takes over a church (that later becomes the playhouse of the theatre company) in 1925. On his walk from the train station to the boarding house where he’s staying, a hooded figure meets him on a footbridge and tells the new arrival that he will bring a child who needs help tomorrow night, and the pastor must help him. This is the phantom of the footbridge.

It’s a very short novel–140 pages–carries with it more than a hint of Dickens in its plotting and characters. Unfortunately, the execution is not as picturesque as Dickens, but the author did a lot of research on the environs of North Springfield in the middle 1920s, and he makes sure to mention every landmark that people pass as they walk (not that there’s anything wrong with that). But the story lacks in those bits.

But I enjoyed it enough in its expository way.

It’s Only A Couple Times A Week

Posted in Springfield on July 1st, 2013 by Brian

Signs that Springfield is getting too big: Stories in the newspaper entitled Don’t see this every day: horse on footbridge in Springfield

The traffic on Campbell Avenue continued on normally, for the most part, Sunday afternoon.

But just south of Primrose Lane, drivers occasionally paused or pulled over to snap a photo or shield the eyes to get a better look at an unusual site [sic].

Above the traffic, on a footbridge that spans Campbell, a man on a horse was slowly making his way over the road.

You see this in Republic from time to time, and I was sure I’d linked to a similar article about someone whose truck broke down in Springfield a couple of years back who proceeded to get his horse out of the trailer that he was pulling and ride the horse home. But I can’t find it now.

Adjust Your Climate Models Accordingly

Posted in Springfield on May 3rd, 2013 by Brian

Yes, there’s snow in Springfield today (and ice floes in my swimming pool, word). It’s a day of some records with interesting implications, we can infer from this Springfield News-Leader story:

The Ozarks broke a record today in measurable snowfall. According to John Gagan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Springfield, the last time the Springfield-area saw measurable snowfall this late in the spring season was May 2, 1929.

But that’s not the only record expected to be broken today.

The last time there was even a trace of snow in May—meaning flurries, but no accumulation—was May 6, 1944.

The temperature will also be significant. Currently, the record low for the coldest day in May was May 4, 1935 at 43 degrees.

So.

One must infer, then, that on May 6, 1944, and on May 2, 1929, it snowed when the temperature was 44 degrees or warmer, must one not? If May 4, 1935, was the coldest low temperature on record, then these other recorded days must have had higher low temperatures, ainna?

And computer models (!) based on data with this precision is exactly why we must return to subsistence levels. QED.

Springfield To Vote On Whether To Grant Taxing Authority To Strip Mall

Posted in News, Springfield on March 13th, 2013 by Brian

Springfield shopping center eyes face-lift:

The owners of Country Club Center hope to give the aging shopping plaza a face-lift. If City Council approves plans for a Community Improvement District, future customers could help pay for the renovation.

CIDs elsewhere in the city have been used to help pay for infrastructure improvements at new developments or for ongoing maintenance and other services downtown and on Commercial Street. If approved, this would be the first time the special tax district has helped fund an entirely private project.

Once anchored on the north by Smillie’s grocery store, the shopping center at Glenstone Avenue and Bennett Street houses a variety of shops including Cosmic Fish and Springfield Leather Co.

Well, there it is, then. We’ve reached the ad absurdum of the special taxing districts. Here’s a property owner looking to levy taxes on customers of its customers to pay for improvements to a downwardly mobile strip mall that no longer houses a grocery store or an election year GOP HQ but does have a head shop, a tattoo parlor, a discount smoke shop, and a combination leather goods / bead shop.

In a capitalist system, the owner would fund the improvements and raise the rents on the current or future tenants. But in the hybrid-and-rapidly-becoming-solely-cronyist system we have, the owner gets to levy taxes on its tenants customers for the project. Or might very well. That is, through the use and abuse of these special districts, every strip mall in Springfield will have the same legitimate claim to raise sales taxes on customers who shop there. Why not? Jared got it.

Full disclosure: I have bought a strip of miscut leather at the Springfield Leather Company this year, so I would be on the hook for an extra penny every so often. So obviously I’m making this argument because it would impact me personally and not on principle.

Junior College Would Have Been Cheaper

Posted in Springfield on February 5th, 2013 by Brian

The Springfield News-Leader has a story about the new dynamic message boards hard-coded into the Springfield traffic scene, and it’s almost critical:

Call it a model for how not to do a public project.

Plagued by delays, complaints and conflict, construction of the city’s Advanced Traffic Management System was an experience many would rather forget.

By the time the $3 million project wrapped up — more than a year after the original deadline — the mess had grown to include charges of biased oversight, a federal prevailing wage investigation and a threatened lawsuit.

Still, all the trouble has served some good, said Public Works Director Phil Broyles.

“It caused us to look at several things,” Broyles said. “There are some lessons learned that, going forward, I think are really going to help us.”

At the cost of $3 million dollars and ongoing annual budget for maintenance, Springfield got a number of signs that mostly offer PSAs, like “Don’t drive drunk,” “Buckle up,” and “Don’t watch these signs–watch the road!” interspersed with information on conditions, like “It’s raining! Drive carefully” or “It’s foggy! You can’t see this!”, and the occasional road hazard warning, like “With our remaining road budget after paying for these signs, we’re fixing a single pothole, but we’re blocking all lanes between here and your home overnight.”

Oh, and some lessons learned.

None of which are related to not splurging on cool things of dubious utility that other cities have so Springfield needs.

The Smoking Ban Body Count

Posted in Springfield on January 10th, 2013 by Brian

Fires are up in Springfield, and the officials are quick to put the blame on careless smokers:

Fire officials say they also saw a record number of fires caused by careless smoking in 2012. The number of those fires rose nearly 23 percent (88 in 2011 to 108 in 2012). Large fires at Chardonnay Apartments and Lakeshore Apartments were started when tenants improperly disposed of cigarettes on wooden balconies.

Six residents died as a result of fire in 2012, compared with four in 2011. Both are higher than Springfield’s average of 3.2 fire deaths per year.

You don’t say. I wonder what might have driven smokers outdoors in greater numbers this year?

Kill My Subscription With Fire

Posted in Springfield on November 12th, 2012 by Brian

I am trying to cancel my subscription to the Springfield News-Leader.

I have taken this paper since I moved the Springfield area three years ago. I was hopeful that I could get a local newspaper that would not irritate the hell out of me as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch did with its slanted news coverage.

I enjoyed it for a while, but recently Gannett has cheesed me off.

For starters, they spruced up the Internet site a little bit and added 20% monthly to my subscription for access to it (it’s mandatory, natch). So now it’s $20 a month. And the Web site has the additional benefit of not having any more content than the regular paper, but I can comment, I think. I don’t visit the Web site, and when I do, it’s to look for events I’ve seen in the calendar section. Which, of course, is separate from the calendar app, you see: If you search for events by day on the Web site, it’s not what was in the paper; to find those, you have to browse articles until you find the complete article from Thursday’s paper and read through that.

That pushes the annual subscription price for the Springfield News-Leader over the annual subscription for the Wall Street Journal, by the way.

The content has been slimming ever since I got here, too; the paper is now down to like 20 pages on Mondays, 10 news, 4 sports, 1 opinion, 1 business, 1 classified, and 3 comics and lifestyles. Most of that content is AP or Gannett content, with the remainder of the local news (that which is not Gannett material, I mean–they rely on Gannett people for local news, but that’s probably an accounting thing) is written by kids fresh out of journalism school who are in the Springfield area for a year until they get a better job elsewhere, and then it’s another 22-year-old pounding the pavement.

Did I say “pounding the pavement”? I meant “putting allegations about Republican candidates above the fold on page one”. This election, we’ve had a great fill of Todd Akin loves rapists more than women stories. We had an allegation about the Republican candidate for Secretary of State whose provenance and only “investigation” was quoting the opponent of that Republican candidate. I mean, by the Secretary of State Elect and incoming Chief Ghostwriter for the Democratic Party. Today’s above the fold story: Blunt Caught in Akin Storm, an “analysis” piece about how a Republican tried to help another Republican get elected. Mostly, though, it’s a continuing effort to try to tie Roy Blunt to Todd Akin’s ill-advised and widely misconstrued turn of phrase “legitimate rape.”

Blunt headline in News-Leader

Because nothing else happened in the city of Springfield or Southwest Missouri all weekend.

So I’m trying to cancel my subscription. They don’t make it easy, you know. You can’t stop it on the Internet; you can only delay it for your vacation. I’ve called and got the phone tree, and the wait to cancel my subscription is 27 to 41 minutes. The machine offered me the chance to call back, and I’m waiting for its call now.

In some portion of my mind, I’m hoping this does not work so I can write them a letter for them to bollix my cancellation and I’ll get to dispute the ongoing charges with my credit card company. I have grown that incensed, not just because the newspaper is behaving like a newspaper, but because the customer service for the newspaper is so lacking.

A couple months ago, one of the stock advisors in Forbes magazine recommended that people buy Gannett stock because it owns a lot of small local newspapers and it “gets” that market. No, Gannett does not. Not at all.

So where will I get my local news? I already carry a subscription to another local weekly, the Republic Monitor. I pick up the bimonthly Community Free Press which has a better news organization than most free pickups. I listen to the radio in the car and will catch some news stories that way. Maybe I’ll start hitting the Web sites of the television stations and the radio stations in the area. Maybe I’ll scan the headlines on the News-Leader‘s Web site.

I don’t know how much down I’ll be in the local news consumption area, but it won’t be as much as one would expect. And I won’t be wasting $250 a year on it.

It’s All La-di-da In Minneapolis

Posted in Life, Springfield on February 3rd, 2012 by Brian

James Lileks on bootscrapes:

I’m tired of walking across the lot to beep my ID and walk in the building and see the sign that asks me to stomp my feet to remove the snow. It comes out every year, along with a brush for scraping your boots. It has the company logo. It’s got to be more than half a century old.

It's James Lileks' image, I'm just rehosting it.  Click over to the post to see its original

I AM TIRED OF THE SHOE THING

Well, maybe in the big city, they only bring the bootscrapes out in the winter, but one of the first things I noticed when I moved to the Springfield area is that you’ll find bootscrapes outside many local businesses and whatnot.

Like outside the Republic branch of the Springfield-Greene County Library:

The Republic branch

You’ll have to squint to see it in that picture.

Note that that esoteric branch of the library opened in 2009.

We have bootscrapes out here because we have ranchers out here. Not city slickers with their exotic footcoverings for the snow.

Where Do You Go When You Need A Gun Sales Anecdote?

Posted in Springfield on December 3rd, 2011 by Brian

Black Friday Best-Seller: Guns:

The numbers, first reported in USA Today, reflect the experience of gun-sellers on the ground. “It was the biggest rush we ever had. Some of the people at the gate sent their kid running to the gun counter to get in line,” said Tom Ritzer, store manager at MC Sports in Springfield, Mo., which opened its doors at 5 a.m. on Black Friday. Gun buyers had to wait until NICS opened at 7 before they could leave with their purchases, he said.

The store sold 70 guns, a mix of rifles and handguns, with big sellers including an $85 World War I replica rifle that is a collector’s item and a$219 Smith &Wesson .22 handgun. Last year the store, which only started carrying guns in 2009, sold 41 on Black Friday.

Not to mention there’s a gun show at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds this weekend.

This….is….SPRINGFIELD!

Springfield Would Characterize Itself Differently

Posted in Springfield, St. Louis on September 14th, 2011 by Brian

A recent link on the StLToday.com Web site, the Internet home of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, recently placed some Springfield news in the “St. Louis” news section with the tag “METRO”. That is, Springfield is part of the St. Louis metropolitan area:

St. Louis wishes.

As much as the largest metropolitan area and its declining city center might like to think that the rest of the state is just an extension of itself (and a touch for taxpayer-funded public/private partnerships), the rest of us are looking for the opt-out link.