Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What's it really going to cost?

What is Beale Street Landing really going to cost?

Good question. Let's try and figure it out.

But you can't figure it out by checking the RDC's own website. Go ahead and look for yourself: Not here, not here, not here, nor even on this page. Nowhere is the total cost mentioned. Evidently, they don't want you to focus on that total-cost number.

But focus we should. It's a fair question because the argument RDC's been quietly making to your City Council representative goes something like this:

"We've gone too far and spent too much to turn back now."

All inquiring Memphis minds should want to know: How far, exactly, have we come? And how far, exactly, do we still have to go?

You can't figure it out by looking at the City's Capital Improvements budget (PDF). That's just a rolling, five-year budget plan, not a construction cost ledger. The actual expenditures may not occur in the same year as they are allocated in the budget. And when a project drags on beyond five years, the older years drop off the spreadsheet, without a reconciliation.

This project has already run six years, and has at least two more to go.

You really can't go by the the number you saw in the Commercial Appeal a couple weeks ago, which was $35 million. It's probably what the RDC told the reporter when he called and asked about it. It came from the RDC, so he had to take their word for it.

But as we already know, we can't take their word for it. Case in point. Here is what the RDC handed out to City Council members during the budget subcommittee hearings on May 11:

"Construction estimate=$33 million."

But when John Branston began citing the RDC's $33 million estimate a few days later, Benny Lendermon dashed off a huffy email clarification to the RDC's board and political friends, claiming Branston was wrong. The total cost, he said was $30.7 million. But Lendermon gave no explanation for why he had recently told the subcommittee $33 million. Which number do we believe?

Now we find out that the construction cost is going to be $6.9 million higher than planned. Do the math. It tells us that the total will be somewhere between $37.6 million (if we give Lendermon the benefit of the doubt) and nearly $40 million (if we believe his earlier representations to City Council).

What is certain: Mayor Wharton needs to have the RDC's projects independently audited -- before he allows any further work to be done. That's the only way we will know the full and true story. In the meantime, we have rely on our best guesses.

$37.6 to $40 million...for a boat dock to nowhere.

To be continued...

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