Read All About It! The Associated Press Discovers Eminent Domain Reality


           The proverb has it that better late than never, so we duly take note of the fact that the Associated Press finally got off the dime and reported yesterday that the vaunted New London redevelopment project, the one that gave us the wretched, 2005 U.S. Supreme Court Kelo decision, has been an unmitigated failure. It has not redeveloped anything, but has only succeeded in destroying a viable lower middle class neighborhood with nothing to show for it, except for blowing at least $80 million (and probably more) in public funds.

         We blogged about that and wrote about it in in the National Journal on line on September 1, 2009, see Check it out.

         We are pleased to hear that the AP story ran in some 250 papers, thus making clear to the populace at large what a disaster that “well planned” project has been. That was the good news.

The bad news is two-fold. First, the AP story does not mention the $80 million-plus in misspent public funds (something we feel is a pretty important aspect of this story). Second, there is stuff in that AP article that makes no sense. We quote:

“Overall, proponents say about two-thirds of the 90-acre site is developed, in part because of a 16-acre, $25 million state park. The other third of the land remains without the promised residential housing, office buildings, shops and hotel/conference center facility.”

          But this arithmetic does not work out. 16 out of 90 acres comes to about 17%, not two-thirds. Also, as far as we have been able to determine, that “state park” is not a part of the redevelopment project. The last dispatch from the New London newspaper, The Day, was that the site of the defunct redevelopment project has become an empty, weed-overgrown tract of land, of interest only to birds and bird watchers. Maybe the AP knows something we and our Connecticut acquaintances don’t know. If so, we yearn to learn, but we have a hunch that the AP is not likely to enlighten us.

         One other thing. The AP reports that the Kelo project promoters are blaming the failure on the economy. Not true. This project was started in 2000, nine years ago, and the U.S. Supreme Court gave it the go-ahed in 2005, well before the onset of the recession and the market/credit crash. And yet, New London’s chosen redeveloper was not able to secure financing for this project. More important, even if they are right (which they aren’t), so what? It has always been our  contention that notwithstanding all the “public use” BS that tends to surround it, redevelopment is nothing more than a private venture that is financed with public money, with land for it obtained by government strong-arm tactics. Which means that when the economy tanks, so do the supposedly “public use” redevelopment projects.

          So the moral of this story is that entrepreneurship — whether called redevelopment, or plain old development — carries with it a risk of failure. As California Court of Appeal Justice Macklin Fleming put it a while back, the landscape is littered with the remains of development projects whose promises of a bigger economic pie turned into pie in the sky. Which is why public funds should not be risked in this fashion. If a proposed redevelopment is as economically hotsy-totsy as its proponents usually claim, let them invest — and risk — their own money. Not yours.

Update. We looked into the confusing part of the AP story, and a kind professional acquaintance in Connecticut has supplied us with pictures and a detailed map, so we think we now understand AP’s confusion. The Fort Trumbull State Park has been there (adjacent to what later became the Fort Trumbull redevelopment project area) for a long time and has nothing whatever to do with the Kelo case or the redevelopment project that gave rise to it. The project area consists of some 90 acres, and nothing has been done with it by way of redevelopment.

          Oh, yes. Looking at that map reminded us. The project was sited on a spot adjacent to the municipal sewage treatment plant. Just where you’d want to build upscale condos and a five-star hotel. Right?

         Also, we were reminded recently that in spite of all the BS about the need to use eminent domain on account of “holdouts” standing in the way of redevelopment, the taking for the Fort Trumbull project carefully left standing a building owned by the Italian Dramatic Club, a local institution that excludes women (except as servants), and is far more renowned as a situs for local politicos doing their thing, than for its theatrical accomplishments. You can take it from there.

Follow up. We recently came across a 2008 article from The Day, New Londion’s newspaper, reporting that the total expenditures on the Fort Trumbull redevelopment fiasco came to $180 million. Fort Trumbull Must Be an Open Book, June 28, 2008.

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