November 23, 2016

Randell: A skybridge over troubled DCU Center coffers

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Since I last wrote about selling the DCU Center to help us deal with the upcoming Municipal Fiscal Armageddon headed our way in 2017 or 2018, the city has crossed a budgetary bridge and trekked even closer to doom.

Bill Randell

Bill Randell

In case you forgot, Municipal Fiscal Armageddon begins when our excess tax levy capacity disappears and the City Council is no longer able to merely set tax rates to fund the submitted budget. No, now the City Council will be faced with a revenue deficit and will have to make cuts to balance the budget.

One would think this might make the current City Council very careful on spending and seriously consider major budget cuts now. As far as I can tell, though, this does not seem to be the case. Instead it looks like we will be building a skybridge (elevated walkway) to connect the DCU Center, the Hilton Garden Inn and the Major Taylor Parking Garage.

More of Randell’s thoughts on the convention center:

Back in 2003 the city promised to build this skybridge to attract a hotel developer, but reneged on this promise after the hotel was built. Since then the owners of the hotel pursued legal remedies and recently received the verdict that they wanted. Now the city of Worcester will need to build the skybridge, although it may try again in court, in February, to delay the project.

The reason the city may continue the fight is because of the cost: what was “$3 million to $4 million” in 2003, had grown to $7 million to $8 million by 2007 and is now estimated to take up a “large portion of the $25 million” that had been budgeted for the last round of DCU Center improvements.

Did I mention the $100,000 in recent flood damage at the DCU Center, which may end up being much more if National Grid makes the city pay for the two blown transformers that were also damaged?

At least we make money on the DCU, right?

Wrong. More than $2,000,000 has been spent or will be from the General Fund to subsidize the DCU between 2015-2017:

  • 2015 actual subsidy from the General Fund = $904,188
  • 2016 estimated subsidy from the General Fund = $490,164
  • 2017 estimated subsidy from the General Fund = $470,494

Instead of trying to delay the inevitable in court, maybe the city should spend its time seriously considering if it belongs in the convention center business in the first place, especially in light of the impending financial crisis?

There is no better example to follow then what happened with Worcester Regional Airport and  Massport. The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority could do the same, exact thing with the DCU. The time to look into this is now, before we spend millions on a skybridge.

We cannot afford to be in non-core business like airports, hospitals, nursing homes, convention centers or, for that matter, train stations and parking garages. Let me say it again, we should try to sell the DCU Center, stop the annual subsidies and return local taxes from the District Improvement Financing account back to the General Fund.

Bill Randell started and operates the local news website Worcester Herald, and is the owner and author of FlyORH, a website dedicated to Worcester Regional Airport. He is also president and founder of Worcester-based businesses Advantage Benefits Group and ABG Real Estate.

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