Column: Choice between something and nothing is no choice at all

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 20, 2002

Trying something new always has risks.

But what’s risker &045; doing something new or doing nothing at all?

That’s the question that Albert Lea city councilors will have to answer for themselves when they vote on the purchase of the Lea Center building Monday. If they do it, they will be committing to a project that will eventually transform part of downtown. It will take effort, persistence, and &045; yes &045; money.

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There are risks in the plan. The developer who wants to refurbish Lea Center may not get all the grants it wants right away. The project across the street, where the city hopes to get somebody into the Freeborn Bank (or &uot;Vault&uot;) building, is by no means a sure thing. The $1.2 million grant the city applied for is no guarantee, either.

But ask any entrepreneur &045; if you don’t take risks, you don’t accomplish anything.

Yes, you say. That’s true for entrepreneurs. But they’re gambling with private money. This is public cash we’re talking about.

Funny how when it’s convenient, people say government should be run like a business, but other times, they insist upon practices that would get you killed in the business world.

Doing nothing, for instance. Businesses have to constantly reinvent themselves, find new markets, change the way they do things, if they want to stay competitive. Why doesn’t a city need to do the same thing? Doing nothing is bad. Stagnation. Decay. Regression. These are the yucky-tasting fruits of doing nothing.

As I see it, it’s time to take a risk on a plan with a chance for a lot of success. I saw the slides of buildings overhauled by Metro Plains, the company that would take over Lea Center. They’re top-notch places. This is a first-class operation. They have never really failed at a project before.

If they say they can turn Lea Center into a successful apartment building with some commercial space, I believe them. They’ve already invested lots of time and effort in doing the research. This isn’t a company that does things on a whim. Their credibility removes a lot of the risk from the project. This plan certainly isn’t just something for the sake of something; it’s viable.

Some people remember other discussions and past plans for the Lea Center and Vault buildings. It’s been going on for a quarter-century. There have been other developers, other ideas, other plans &045; none of which has amounted to anything lasting. Why not? That, like everything, depends on who you ask. Whenever you get people with lots of money and lots of ambition trying to pull off building deals, politics are involved and bad blood starts brewing if things don’t turn out as planned.

Who’s to blame? Beats me. I’m not taking sides. It’s a fact that I was not in town when most of these other deals happened (or didn’t happen). I also don’t spend a lot of time getting involved in the backroom politics in this town. I prefer to deal with things out in the open.

From my perspective &045; relative newcomer judging this on its merits and nothing else &045; it appears to me that the city’s plan for downtown is solid. It strikes me as a worthwhile project.

It certainly beats doing nothing.

&045; &045; &045;

Speaking of someting, we’ve got something going here at the Tribune with regard to the mayoral race.

Now that there is a final list of candidates, it’s time to start asking those candidates questions. Finding out where they stand. Getting the information we need to decide who will make the best mayor.

We’re going to ask all the candidates one question a week from now until the primary, when voters will narrow the list from five to two. Every Monday, we’ll print the candidates’ answer to that week’s question.

As I’ve said before, I think we have a very important choice to make, and I’m hoping this question-and-answer feature will help you make your decision.

Dylan Belden is the Tribune’s managing editor. His column appears Sundays.