Working for 'common good' helps no one

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
July 11, 2004

The developer of a Hampton Inn about to be built on the corner of Henley and Main streets recently reached an agreement with the city and local preservationists about a redesign of his hotel. In exchange for this redesign and, perhaps other consideration, he was granted nine-year property tax abatement by the city. I like the new design, especially when compared with the typically drab, utilitarian design of similar hotels located at interstate exits.

I just hope it isn't too aesthetically pleasing. If it is, the owner risks having it declared a local treasure, at which time some people would advocate taking the property for the benefit of the community.

I first thought of this when reading about the small controversy surrounding the movement of the Kimball's clock from the sidewalk on Gay Street to the new Kimball's location in west Knoxville. Move the clock? Why that clock is an institution! It would be an insult to the public for Kimball's to move that clock.

Baloney.

In the long-term, this type of public policy will actually negatively impact the preservationist's cause. It will diminish the quality of future developments. Why should I spend a bunch of money to develop a fantastic house/office/private park/etc. if there is a risk that it will be so attractive that I or subsequent owners can't use the property as we please? Last month the government of Zimbabwe destroyed all property deeds and abolished private land ownership ' in the name of the common good. Farm production is expected to decline to the point Zimbabwe farmers will only produce half of the country's food needs this year. Instead of redistributing wealth, the government will redistribute misery.

The most important minority is a minority of one. It is intellectually inconsistent for someone to favor the protection of the rights of certain minority groups while denying them to a single individual.

For twenty years, I've worked downtown and watched Home Federal buy buildings in the Market Square area when no one else would. They keep a significant employment base downtown. They rush to the defense, protection and support of more local causes than I can name. Their care and concern for the community is genuine. How can someone question their commitment to downtown Knoxville if they want to use dilapidated property they own to maintain and grow their downtown presence? Home Federal has considered demolishing a number of buildings to provide parking for their large downtown employee base. Many of the same people who lament the lack of adequate, convenient downtown parking are the same ones upset about the possibility of Home Federal deciding how to use its own property. I used to regularly visit a shoe shop in one of those buildings. If someone is genuinely concerned about downtown, they would favor the removal of that rattrap.

A few days ago, NY Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton was speaking in San Francisco. 'We're going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good.'

For a moment, I thought she was in Knoxville.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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