Opinion

Police/court building just won’t be cheap

“I just don’t want to see you fall on your face,” one of our more asiduous readers chuckled – although his anatomical phraseology was a bit more colorful, and we’ve known him long enough to suspect that he actually enjoys putting an occasional bruise on the editorial rump.

Our impish critic took issue with the casual assertion last week that a proposed police station/municipal court building would cost “almost as much as” City Hall.

“Nine million compared to $12-13 million – it isn’t even close,” he chided, although his dander seemed piqued more by the cost of the latter (which in some circles still rankles, even a good six years after the building opened) than the potential expense of a newer facility still.

And we concede the point. But our intent wasn’t so much to equivocate the price tags as to suggest that development of a cops/courts facility will not be cheap; that seems a point worth making, given the smoke-and-mirrors financing suggested in a report backing its construction.

The recently unveiled Webber report (so named for the consultant who drafted it) correctly identifies the need for better facilities for our police and municipal court, pegging the cost of a joint-use campus near Madison and 305 at just under $9 million.

To offset those costs, the report suggests that the city divest itself of several parcels including the current police station at 305/Winslow Way. Parting with that building would be no great loss (although buyers might be scarce for the same reason the police want to move out: it’s a dump).

But the report goes on to suggest that the city delve further into the real estate business, subdividing a 15-acre parcel at Sportsman Club/New Brooklyn – which the city purchased in 2000 for $495,000, specifically to site a new police station there – and selling off individual building lots to generate as much as $4 million. Assuming the city makes those moves, the report puts the cops/courts project development costs at a more palatable $4.302 million.

It’s fancy math, hinging on several assumptions – not least that citizens want to see the city part with a perfectly good greenbelt. The community has just spent four years and $8 million securing open space parcels like those lush 15 acres off Sportsman Club Road.

Even if the city puts the police station elsewhere and never finds anything else to do with the Sportsman land, throwing it to the four winds of the real estate market to be turned into another overpriced subdivision – just to raise cash – seems a bit outside the city’s mission. And as it happens, folks in the orbit of City Hall do have other ideas for the property.

Even before the Webber report was published, affordable housing advocates began touting the Sportsman parcel for a modest subsidized-housing project, perhaps providing homes for public employees. Such a plan might fly and it might not, but it would at least commit the land to a higher purpose than random, maximum-intensity development.

Either way, the property’s resale value shouldn’t be used to cloud the cost of other city projects. A police/court campus would be a huge investment, almost – let’s qualify that: “almost” – as big as our new City Hall.

Proponents should own up to that fact from the get-go.

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