To the editor:
As someone who spent most of my two years on the City Council grappling with two of the most challenging budgets in our history, I was extremely interested to see Councilman Frank Fannons proposal to handle some of our financial challenges by leasing city properties that are currently underutilized. Our challenges are so great that we have to welcome any and all suggestions to the discussion.
Councilman Fannons proposal appears to build on the work of the Economic Sustainability Workgroup which urged the city to inventory and dispose of surplus properties; as well as the work of the previous City Council, which commissioned real estate consultant Jones Lang LaSalle to perform that inventory and make recommendations for the disposition of those properties.
While it is important to bring new perspectives to this discussion, Councilman Fannons proposal departs from the recommendations of Jones Lang LaSalle, the Economic Sustainability Implementation Monitoring Committee, and I believe the long-term best interests of our taxpayers in that it opposes disposition of the properties. Councilman Fannons proposal insists that maintaining ownership of these properties is more lucrative. I respectfully disagree.
While the leasing of city property may be a beneficial, interim policy as we await a more favorable market for sale, I dont believe it is the appropriate role of government to hold onto unneeded properties and operate as a landlord for generations as the proposal suggests.
Furthermore, such a proposal is fiscally short-sighted. While leasing does bring in recurring revenue, it does so at the expense of keeping very valuable properties in the hands of government rather than allowing the private sector to realize their highest and best use. Given our current vacancy rate and the substantial investment required in these properties to make them available for lease, getting these properties into the hands of private landowners presents the greatest long-term benefit for our taxpayers.
A lot of hard work has been done by the citizens and consultants who have been involved with looking at Alexandrias surplus properties. The goal of that work has much in common with Mr. Fannons proposal: to eliminate properties that are unproductive, a drag on our resources and in some cases detrimental to our quality of life. But these properties are valuable cards that the city has the opportunity to play to leverage redevelopment, open-space preservation and long-term economic sustainability.
I urge the City Council to consider those options carefully.
Justin M. Wilson
Former Alexandria city councilman.