By Tim Morris
The people of Springfield will be impacted by an important decision that the Springfield Economic Development Agency (SEDA) has to make and we must carefully consider the long-term effects of this decision. That includes looking at who does or doesn’t benefit from it.
Both proposals that came before SEDA last week are bold in scale, no doubt. While there has been a steady drumbeat of interest in developing this riverfront land over the last decade, what is noteworthy is that these two proposals have come to SEDA outside of a formal solicitation process. While on the surface, both of these proposals seem to be bringing Springfield into a stronger economic future, we must also take into account what message Springfield is sending to future developments — do we invest in our community or do we invest in the wealthy?
Glenwood Development, LLC’s proposal has one jaw-dropping component: The plan is to use all equity and zero debt to finance it, using federal Opportunity Zone program tax breaks.
While some heated housing markets will see residential homes sell for all cash, it’s pretty unusual to see no debt used to finance a massive commercial development. If approved, Glenwood Development can immediately break ground and begin construction immediately, which is great for the short term of Oregon’s housing crisis. However, what Springfield truly needs is a guarantee of fair wages and long-term benefits.
The great part of development proposals is that the future of Springfield is always debated. Will a certain project work for Springfield five years down the road? Is a project truly addressing a need that Springfield does have or will have? I love listening to the creative ideas that come forward on these projects.
One key component that is missing from these proposals is the future of the people working these service jobs, and there are several questions that must be answered for SEDA to make an informed decision. Will they be paid a wage with benefits that allow someone to live nearby and not provide additional stress on affordable housing, social services, and transportation? Will investors take advantage of the Federal Opportunity Zone Program, using capital gains tax benefits to defer taxes on assets put into the project until 2026 only to immediately sell the project, leaving Springfield holding the bag? Will we be left with a fantastic new place to call home that Springfield residents cannot afford?
This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but let’s make sure it benefits all people in Springfield and not just the wealthy.
Tim Morris is a resident of Lane County and the executive director of the Springfield Eugene Tenant Association (SETA). This column was not written on behalf of SETA. Morris is also a former member of the Lane County Budget Committee and has been a community organizer for years.