Artist’s rendering of “Innovation Tower” project proposal at Erie’s downtown YMCA building on W. 10th and Peach St, by Flagship Opportunity Zone Development Company.
Without further ado, your Idiotville feel-good story of the week:
It’s so much more fun to build something than to maintain it, right? We glorify the builders, those among us who make something out of nothing. Three years ago when someone came along touting his status as a builder, we elevated him to President of the United States.
On the other hand, it’s not nearly as much fun to appreciate what we already have. Whether it’s a kid sitting bored atop a mountain of toys or an adult with a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear, our minds pull us away from whatever it is we’ve acquired. So we stigmatize the maintenance man, which is really a shame.
Our own city has seen the results of this thinking. Building the City of Erie next to our beautiful lake was an incredible, prideful achievement. Over 200 years later, our roads are in disrepair, our sewers and water lines are failing, and our manufacturing base – those Erie companies who built things! – have disappeared. We are in dire need of maintaining what we’ve built, revitalizing the places decaying all around us.
Enter “Opportunity Zones.” What are these Opportunity Zones, you ask? Great question, and I’m not even sure I know myself. The term itself came from the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (also known as the “Light $200 Billion/Year on Fire and See How Much Heat is Produced Act”), so I was skeptical from the start. Then I learned that the Opportunity Zone provision was a bipartisan effort championed by senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) and felt better.
Basically, these are previously developed areas that have fallen on hard times, such as large swaths of Erie. Here is a relatively short explainer and some maps of Erie’s Opportunity Zones, both from the Flagship Opportunity Zone website, which are worth your time if you have any interest. Once the Opportunity Zone is identified, individual properties within it can be developed with huge federal tax incentives.
Emphasis here on “federal” tax incentives. Unlike the recently passed LERTA program, local taxes are unaffected by Opportunity Zone development. That means Erie can redevelop to the detriment of federal coffers while Erie’s tax revenues increase due to our blighted properties being revamped. This is a potentially huge tax giveaway on the federal side, and not the way I would’ve designed it, but Erie may well benefit as a result.
All of which gets us to this week’s good news story: the Flagship Opportunity Zone Development Company has come out with its initial batch of projects. These are tangible proposals for redevelopment at actual Erie properties.
This is exciting, because it’s another step in the right direction for our town. It’s a chance to rebuild the one thing we all want to see: an Erie with opportunity for ourselves and our families.