Business Group Can't Be City Burden

March 07, 1994

The City of Westminster should contribute $50,000 to the Greater Westminster Development Corp., but city officials shouldn't donate a dollar unless this development organization accepts some specific requirements along with the money. Without a number of conditions, this private non-profit organization runs the risk of becoming excessively dependent on public money which may inhibit it from realizing its full potential.

Because the city's taxpayers will generally benefit from a revitalized downtown, it is fitting for the city to provide a substantial part of the GWDC's initial financing.

Others -- particularly downtown property owners, businesses and developers -- should shoulder an equal share of the costs because they will reap considerable financial rewards if the organization is successful in attracting new business to the Carroll County seat.

The plan to use Westminster's contribution to hire an executive director is fraught with problems. Since the city is paying for his salary, city officials can -- and, in all likelihood, will -- have a disproportionate say in that person's hiring and supervision. Under those kinds of conditions, the Westminster city government might as well add a development director to its ranks.

The GWDC's executive director should not follow the current strategies, which, given the business conditions on Main Street, don't seem to be producing results. Instead, the director would need freedom to explore and express provocative ideas and strategies that will rouse downtown Westminster out of its current downward spiral. By having an even mix of private and public money, the director will not be overly beholden to City Hall and the political whims of the moment.

If the GWDC is to be a real partnership between government and private interests, the burden should be shared. Rather than giving the Greater Westminster Development Corp. its money upfront, the city should match dollar-for-dollar the money that others donate to this organization. The city should place a limit of $50,000 on its contribution, but others in the community could donate more if they desire. Requiring that others have a financial stake in the GWDC will encourage these individuals to take a more active role in the organization to ensure that their money is well spent.

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