Our View: Stop Paying Strangers to Fix Local Problems

2013-03-22T09:08:00Z Our View: Stop Paying Strangers to Fix Local Problems Twin Falls Times-News
March 22, 2013 9:08 am

It’s time to stop paying others to solve our problems for us. Last month, the Twin Falls Urban Renewal Agency terminated its contract with consultant Mark Rivers, a Boise developer who promised to help us revitalize downtown. The URA hired Rivers two years ago on a $20,000, four-month agreement and then kept him on with a $5,000-a-month retainer.

“(Rivers) was instrumental in getting Glanbia downtown, and he did some good things while he was here, but for whatever reason he kind of dropped us,” Gary Garnand, chairman of the URA board, told the Times-News. “… for whatever reason he chose to quit talking to us.”

That’s a lot of money to pay someone to be ignored.

When Rivers first came to Twin Falls, he did great work. He was instrumental in negotiating the location of Glanbia’s research and innovation center currently under construcion in Old Towne. Success breeds success, Rivers said at the time. And many have high hopes about the way Glanbia’s downtown center will rebirth Old Towne.

Unfortunately, at some point, the Rivers contract became the latest in a series of money pits that have diverted dollars from the actual work that needs to be done in downtown Twin Falls.

Sidewalks in the busiest parts of Main Avenue are cracked and heaving. Instead of marking the cracks with yellow paint, how many blocks of sidewalk could have been repaired for $5,000 a month?

We have buildings all along Main Avenue that are boarded up or in disrepair. Could $5,000 a month have been better spent on more facade work or in grants for absentee landlords to do the work needed to attract retail or restaurant tenants?

And what of all the money that we spent on consultants before we hired Mark Rivers?

Twin Falls taxpayers spent $55,000 on a 2001 downtown development study that got shelved. It was the first of three consultant-driven pushes in a little more than a decade to revitalize downtown. The second was $313,000 spent on work by Portland, Ore.-based consulting firm Leland Consulting Group.

According to articles published at the time, when Rivers was hired in 2011, there was a lot of hope for all he would accomplish. Rivers and others brushed off the work done by consultants in the past decade, citing the economy and other factors for why it didn’t work or why those recommendations were outdated.

At the time, Rivers promised to look at downtown / Old Towne properties, identify uses for those properties and find out what it would take to get them occupied. He did exactly that with Glanbia.

With the Rivers contract terminated, it’s time for Twin Falls and the Twin Falls Urban Renewal District to decide their next steps for downtown.

According to Melinda Anderson, Twin Falls URA executive director, the next step is for the URA to put together its strategic plan. The board has yet to discuss the details of how the process will work or at what point the public will be involved. Local, public involvement, in whatever form, will be key.

At this point, the temptation could be to look for reasons why Rivers didn’t work out — he was too busy with other projects in other towns, as Garnand speculated last week — and look to the next consultant with big promises to revitalize downtown.

But that would be a mistake.

We can’t pay another penny to consultants for their thoughts on our downtown.

When Rivers was hired in 2011, he told the Times-News, “I think it’s time to move forward. I think the whole line of all the old studies, and all this stuff, it was yesterday. Let’s talk about today and tomorrow. The best way to move forward is to actually move forward.”

We couldn’t agree more.

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(1) Comments

  1. WestGates
    Report Abuse
    WestGates - March 24, 2013 11:41 am
    This is one of the funniest Op-Eds I've read in some time.

    Let me explain it. It's called "The 50 Mile Rule." It's older than the hills and goes somewhat like this: "You are not an expert unless you 1) have a clipboard or briefcase, 2) have a white lab coat and 3) live at least 50 miles away."

    Several years ago, I created a huge comprehensive international marketing program for for a local company. I charged the client $50K for the project which resulted in a $380+ million dollar deal. The client chewed my butt in public, claiming I was too expensive and "do you think you're some San Francisco designer."

    When Boise State paid a Minneapolis design studio $86K to create a "meaner bronco," I was asked for my thoughts from a few of our local legislators. I told them that I was not insulted because I understand the 50 Mile Rule. At the time, I was had work from Disney, Lucas Films, the NFL, the USMC and Pixar on my desk…but was too local be be an expert. I felt worse because BSU had its own Graphic Design program, but would never had considered hiring their own students and paying them $10K…more or less $80 to do the job. They were too close.

    I was the head of a Technology Advisory committee for a local school district. When the district got a $2 million dollar Technology Grant. I knew exactly what was going to happen. To head off the inevitable, I approached the board and volunteered some of the best people in the country to implement the grant for free. After sending me a very polite letter of rejection, they hired a consulting firm from the east coast. A small group of consultants flew into the area and spent two week gather information (mostly by interviewing members of the Technology Advisory Committee). They flew back east and sent a final report, recommendation and plan to the board…and only charged them $700K.

    The result was a loss of 30% of the budget and there was no longer enough money to complete the project. The board then approached the Tech Advisory Committee and asked them to complete the project. Thank God, we had a formal Rejection Letter, because the project was no longer financially viable.

    I could regale you with story after story. The point is, The 50 Mile Rule explains so much.

    As for economic development, start with Ernesto Sirolli:

    West Gates

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