Free the Great Miami River
by Mark Luedtke
Dayton’s central planners are at it again. They want us to hand them $4 million to take out the killer dam on the river and replace it with manufactured whitewater structures. They want us to believe that this, like Harry Potter waving his wand, will suddenly make Dayton prosperous. This is reportedly a top priority of the Soviet-style Downtown Dayton plan. We know how central plans worked out for the Soviets.
Dayton’s central planners have an abysmal record on the river. The richest piece of real estate in Dayton should be at Main and the river, but government squandered one side of it with a fire station and the other with an ugly concrete wall constantly covered in graffiti. The second richest piece of real estate in downtown Dayton should be at Patterson and the river, but government squandered one side of that with a park and a bike hub and the other with pipes for a fountain, leaving a parking lot as the only possibility to build there. Then they stuck the killer dams in the river to ensure nobody could enjoy the water. Government’s depression of the river has turned the north bank into a slum.
But now government’s central planners want us to trust them. They want us to believe this new central plan is a “game changer.” Don’t buy the hype.
As far as central plans go, this one is less bad than the killer dam was. At least some rafters will be able to enjoy the river on nice days, but the last thing we need is to waste $4 million dollars on another central plan. I know people like the park. I like the park, and since I live close by, I walk along the river nearly every day, and there’s nobody else around. Riverscape is packed a couple of dozen days a year, and that’s what people see, but every other day, the riverbanks are basically empty. And wealth is created through economic exchange, therefore government parks preclude the creation of wealth. It’s a travesty that politicians have stolen the most valuable natural resource in Dayton from the people and squandered it.
This project isn’t about revitalizing Dayton. It’s about enriching politicians, bureaucrats and their cronies. That $4 million will enrich some contractor, and the contractor will kick back a lot of that money to Dayton’s rulers who will claim they created jobs. When it’s all said and done, only a handful of rafters will enjoy the river on a few days during nice weather, like the handful of bikers do today. Government will have squandered more of our wealth.
In contrast, San Antonio has a beautiful river walk lined with a mall, bars, restaurants, retail and hotels. The people of San Antonio took control of their river away from the government and turned into one of the most impressive economic engines in Texas. It’s a giant tourist attraction, and it’s packed virtually every day of the year. Our beautiful river could fuel even more economic activity.
It’s absurd that with this beautiful natural resource we have in the heart of Dayton, we can’t go have dinner and drinks on a deck overlooking the river. It’s absurd we can’t walk along the river from bistro to shop to cafe.
Innovators in the private sector made Dayton a great city. Imagine what those innovators could do if they controlled the river instead of politicians. And they would be investing their own money, not money stolen from others in the form of taxes whether they use the parks or not. The government should auction off the land to developers and require in the contract that the owners maintain the levees to specifications in perpetuity.
The developers would form their own voluntary organization to develop the river itself. Maybe a whitewater park is the best choice. Maybe it’s not. Maybe a water park. Maybe returning the river to its natural state is the best choice. When private owners are in charge, the sky’s the limit. The only way to know what works best is for developers to risk their own money and measure their profit or loss. The central planners claim their new plan will clean the river, but they have an abysmal record on that too. On the other hand, developers would reliably clean up the river because a dirty river would reduce their profits.
But in order to get developers to invest their own money in Dayton, we must first abolish the income tax. San Antonio and Texas have no income tax. That’s why San Antonio is growing and Dayton is shrinking. Nobody wants to invest their money where they get 2.25 percent stolen off the top when they can invest elsewhere and not be punished by that tax. If we abolish economic development bureaucracies, which are inherently counter-productive, and their Soviet-style plans, we can abolish the income tax and all become wealthier. Developers will invest in Dayton, and our city will start growing again.
Unfortunately the $4 million has nearly been raised and the project looks imminent. Our rulers should give the money back, abandon their plan and get out of the way. Self-serving government officials are all that stands between the people of Dayton and transforming the Great Miami River into a mighty economic engine that enriches all of us. Let’s get them out of the way.
Reach DCP freelance writer Mark Luedtke at MarkLuedtke@daytoncitypaper.com