It hasn't been a great year for the city of Chicago. The murder rate has soared, teachers went on strike and a plan to sell some of the city's assets only resulted in the money being eaten up to plug holes in the budget. But, it's Chicago's bad management which is now serving as a cautionary tale for a Memphis group seeking to find ways for the city to invest extra money rather than spend it.
If you went by the title alone, you'd think attending the first meeting of the Five Year Strategic Planning Asset Monetization and Securitization Subcommittee would be a lost hour of your life you'll never get back. Thank goodness for the future growth of this city, the people who volunteered to come felt the exact opposite.
Even if you think using the words "smart" and "government" together is some type of oxymoron, you should still be impressed with what this talented group of people, representing the City Council, private sector business leaders and spearheaded by city projects guru, Robert Lipscomb, are hoping to accomplish. Take the city's best assets and resources and creatively use them to aggressively attack poverty in Memphis by investing in children and families.
"This is categorizing all our assets, figuring out which ones we still need to own, which ones we might be able to lease, which ones are optimized and which ones to need to be optimized," says City Councilman Kemp Conrad.
Councilman Shea Flinn adds, "It's incumbent upon us if we're going to be successful, successful for the next generation after that. We cannot continue with the poverty rate where it is. You have to attack that head on."
Yes, there are some "big ticket" city assets like Memphis International Airport and MLGW that are definitely not up for sale. There are acres of parks with empty spaces. There are also "underachievers" as well. The revenues from city parking meters could definitely be tweaked. The abandoned Mid-South Coliseum? Well, we still don't want to go there now do we? But, once the list is perused, there should be possibilities to cash in on...and then put that money in a lockbox.
"If we do decide to monetize assets, those will be invested. Put into a trust and invested in a prosperity agenda," says Conrad. "We would not use this money to plug a budget gap or whatnot. We would use it to invest in children and I think that's something everybody can get behind."
MHA City Projects Director Robert Lipscomb says, "We owe it to the public and we owe it to our fiscal situation to make sure we're spending the money wisely and we look at every opportunity to position our assets the way they should be."
"We can talk "field of dreams" with some big number assets. But, there's a lot of problems and controversy that goes along with that, and I think before we get to those on the way up, we're going to find a lot of opportunity in smaller projects," says Flinn.
See, it was actually the first of many hours that won't be lost, but rather well spent.