The City's Pulse Newsletter
The "But For" Test

It's an odd title for a test.  Yet this simple two-word qualifier should be a required mantra for all urban renewal officials. "But For" should be embroidered on their shirts, emblazoned on their letterheads and engraved on their office walls. And officials should have to stand and repeat the "But For" test aloud at the beginning of every meeting. 

"But For" is a quick way to evaluate whether the public dollars used by urban renewal agencies are being approved correctly.  Here's the short and simple test:  "But For urban renewal, would this project happen?"  The correct answer is No.  If an area will develop on its own, in a reasonable amount of time, urban renewal should not be used.

So the "But For" test is downright basic but surprisingly powerful.  Let's try it:  

But For urban renewal, would the new, tall, Parkside Tower on Sherman and 6th in CdA have been built?  Yes, it would have.  The $820,000 approved by urban renewal to subsidize this project helped the developer build higher and bigger, yet you can be sure that there would have been some type of building project there without urban renewal.  It's a prime location overlooking not only main street, but a large park and a lake as well. And it's in the middle of a vibrant downtown.  So the Parkside flunks the "But For" test.

But For urban renewal, would Riverstone or the Mill River development out on Seltice Way have been built?  My opinion is No, so they pass the test.  Both Riverstone and Mill River were industrial sites that required a fair amount of clean up.  There are people who would legitimately argue both of these areas would have developed on their own, and I can see their point.  But I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt for the first portion of urban renewal money given to them.  Mill River received $ 3.5 million and Riverstone was approved for $1.5 million to start.  That's where it should have stopped.  (And they should have been their own districts with clear, measurable goals and shortened time lines that closed as soon as they were paid off, but that's another newsletter.)

Riverstone's second phase, however, was approved for another $6.7 million, to total up over $8 million for the whole project.   Let's use the test:  But For more urban renewal dollars, would the second phase of Riverstone been developed?  Yes.  Perhaps it would have been slower.  Maybe it wouldn't have had the pond-next-to-the-river-next-to-the-lake, but it would have had a nice park and development at a natural, market-driven pace. 

Just one more example because it's the most egregious.  It's the "But For" Buetler & Chesrown building on NW Boulevard called Northwest Place.  The building was already under construction when the money was approved by LCDC.  It automatically flunks the test.  A Press article quoted John Buetler saying of the $118,000, "It's an encouragement to do a larger project..."  

That is not the purpose of urban renewal. It's not meant to make a project bigger or taller or more profitable. It's mission is to clear blight, create jobs and spur development where it would not otherwise occur. 

Post Falls urban renewal takes the "But For" test seriously and uses it to review every project approval.  They preach the value of the test and understand it reveals their dedication to the taxpayers. The Post Falls city council is a strong supervisor, keeping a close eye on the direction of tax incentives in their community.  Their methods stand in stark contrast to those in Coeur d'Alene.

The "But For" test may be basic and simple, but it speaks volumes about the people and agencies applying the test.  The attitudes, policies and approved procedures all come from the top down.  At the top you will find the Mayors and City Councils.  They are the approval and oversight committees for urban renewal in their cities.  They are where the Buck Stops, so they are also where the "But For" test should start.