Economic Impact of Des Moines’ Water Trails project is not believable.

To the editor,

Please consider the following for inclusion in your letters section, or as a “Your Turn” essay:
It is exciting to think about the River Trails white water park that is proposed for the downtown portions of the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers.  It would be a nice addition to the amenities that help keep and attract people and businesses to the Des Moines area.
But I don’t believe the results of the economic impact study that was done by Johnson Consulting for Capital Crossroads.  As reported in The Des Moines Register, the study estimates that the Water Trails project will generate $104 million of Total Direct Spending at restaurants, hotels, stores, and equipment rentals during its first five years of operation.  (See link to Register article below.)
For example, the report assumes that there will be 78,068 paying active participants of the River and Adventure Park features during the first full year of operation – spending about $78 each on food, beverage, and equipment rental.  If we assume  the recreational and related opportunities are open 365 days per year, it means that an average of over 200 people would use the facilities every day.  That doesn’t seem reasonable to me.
In addition to the 78,068 active participants, the report assumes the project will attract an additional 80,000 non-active visitors, plus 15,404 more visitors from the Iowa Events Center, for a total of 173,472 visitors who will contribute to the total economic impact of the project during the first year – spending about $100 each that they otherwise would not have spent..  (The estimated number of users increases about 6-7% per year after the first year.)
The projections include the assumption that 60,000 of the visitors will stay overnight during the first year.  That equals an average of 164 overnight visitors every day who would not have otherwise stayed overnight if there weren’t a River Trails recreation project.  The report includes other unrealistic estimates.
It is probably impossible to calculate the economic benefit of any new attraction that is added on top of all of those that already exist in our metropolitan area.  I suppose it is expected that an economic impact study be conducted before spending $117 million on a recreational project like this.  The consultants do make proper disclaimers and disclosures in their report to notify readers of how estimates were made, and that actual results may be significantly different.
It is important that we not fool ourselves into thinking that we can accurately quantify the future economic impact of such a project.  My gut feeling is that the indirect benefits of the River Trails project might greatly exceed the costs, but that the directly measurable economic benefits will not.

Prairie Meadows should open their books, regardless of ruling

On 12/16/2016, The Des Moines Register reported that the Iowa Public Information Board had ruled that Prairie Meadows  Race Track and Casino was not a “government body” according to their rules and, therefore, was not required to follow open records laws, and not required to provide the Register with records pertaining contracts of its top executives.  (See link below.)

The Register can appeal the decision, and has some good arguments why Prairie Meadow should be subject to open records laws.  But even if Prairie Meadows is not required to follow open records laws, they could still release the records voluntarily.  Just because it is legal to do something does not mean it is the right thing to do.  Prairie Meadows would not exist if not for the original support of Polk County taxpayers.  The board claims that Prairie Meadows is a not-for-profit organization, (even though the IRS disagrees).  I don’t understand why any board member would want to be anything other than completely transparent about the operations of Prairie Meadows?  I presume that none of them feel they have anything to hide.

I appeal to the board members of Prairie Meadows to simply do the right thing, and voluntarily open their records to the public, and the Des Moines Register.


Link to Register article:

A secret grand jury is not appropriate for police shootings.

Today, the Des Moines Register reported on the decision by the grand jury in Polk County to not indict the Des Moines police officer who shot an unarmed man.  (8/27/2015 – “No charges against D.M.  officer” – see link below)  You reported that the prosecutor, Polk County Attorney John Sarcone, said, “This was the eighth fatal police shooting reviewed by a Polk County grand jury since 2007, all of which ended with jurors choosing not to indict.”
Since the grand jury process is highly secret, we don’t know what facts or arguments were presented to the grand jury.  With what we do know, it is hard to imagine that there should be no charges whatsoever brought against the officer.

The prosecutor and the police depend on having a trusting and friendly relationship.  Because of this relationship, the prosecutor clearly has conflict of interest .  The prosecutor could quite easily have a significant bias towards not indicting police officers.  Actually, that is why we have the grand jury system – to have the decision whether or not to indict be made by unbiased citizens.  But the system is flawed.  The entire process is secret, and is led by the prosecutor.  It is not difficult to imagine that the prosecutor could exert significant influence on the grand jury to not indict, and then be off the hook politically because he did not make the decision.  Did that happen in this case?  We will never know because of the secrecy of the process.

We should either make the process public and transparent, or get rid of the grand jury system for police shootings.

Convention center hotel boondoggle!

In The Des Moines Register story, “11 things to know about the proposed convention center hotel,” (see link below),  Number 9 was, “Consultants say it will help other downtown hotels.”  The consultants reported that the proposed hotel will, “…bring an estimated 3 million additional visitors to the city… during the first 20 years.”  3 million divided by 20 years equals 150,000 per year.  Divided by 52 weeks = 1,442 people each week, every week for 20 years, who, the consultant says, will not be coming to Des Moines if we don’t have this new conventions center hotel.  I don’t believe it. I also don’t believe the consultant’s report that, “other downtown hotels will book an additional 3,200 room-nights per year as a result of the convention hotel.”  Sure, there will be some new conventions that will come to Des Moines only because of the convenient location of the  new convention center hotel.  But, there will also be other conventions that will come to Des Moines with or without the new hotel, just as they have in the past, and some of those will no longer use the existing downtown hotels.

 And all this will cost taxpayers $60 million in subsidies, and the hotel will be not-for-profit, meaning that it will also not be paying any property taxes or income taxes.
Link to Register article:

Vote YES on $81 million Courthouse bond referendum November 5th.

One of the few proper roles of our government is to operate a civil and criminal justice system.  In a civil society, crimes must be adjudicated impartially and disputes must be resolved peacefully.  In Polk County, over the past decades,  we have cobbled together the building space used to support our court system.  The current space is crowded, unsafe, and inefficient.  Detainees, judges, jurors, and the public cannot be properly segregated to ensure proper safety for all.

Five years ago, Polk County voters rejected as too expensive the then proposed $127 million bond referendum that included the construction of a new court building.  Now, the County and other interested parties have brought forth a significantly less expensive proposal that achieves the same goals.

On November 5th, Polk County voters are being asked to approve an $81 million bond issue that, if approved, will add $12 – $13 per year to the property tax on a $100,000 house.  The money will be used to renovate our existing historical Courthouse, convert the JC Penny/Wellmark building immediately North of the Courthouse into a “Justice Center Annex”, and convert the Old Main Jail immediately East of the Courthouse into a “Criminal Court Annex.”  These changes will provide for a much safer and more efficient court system.

Those promoting this project have have responded thoughtfully to the objections made by voters five years ago, and have made sensible changes to reduce costs while achieving important goals.  Polk County voters should vote YES on this “Public Measure A” on November 5th.

See the following link for more information:

Vote NO on Water and Land Legacy bond issue in Polk County, Iowa

Emotionally, I support the Water and Land Legacy bond proposal that Polk County, Iowa, voters will vote to approve or reject on election day.  I want clean rivers and believe that it is a proper role of government to regulate our environment.  But, if we feel that we should spend more on water quality and recreation, then we should pay today, not bind people in the future to pay the cost.  As we have become more prosperous, we have done a better and better job of cleaning up our environment.  We should continue our current path of spending what we can pay for today.  Vote NO on the Water and Land Legacy bond proposal on the back side of your ballot.