Saturday, July 17, 2004

Rookwood just part of Norwood answer

Your voice: Steve Thornbury

In a recent letter to the Enquirer ("2 Rookwoods, but Norwood on the brink?," July 6), the writer expressed puzzlement as to why Norwood, with "two Rookwood developments," was still experiencing financial difficulties.

The simple answer is that Rookwood is only one of many sources of revenue for the city. Without it, Norwood's current budget deficit projections would certainly be much greater. But there are more complex issues behind the writer's question.

One is the commonly held misconception that when both phases of Rookwood were proposed, city leaders proclaimed each to be the "saviors" of all our city's budget woes. Certainly there were plenty of proclamations that Rookwood would help. However I can't recall anyone, particularly public officials, being naive enough to suggest that Rookwood was a panacea.

Some have even gone so far as to assert that attracting retail development is not sound economic policy and should not be one of the cornerstones of our city's plan for financial stability.

I make no claims to being an expert in municipal finance. In an article in the Spring/Summer 2000 issue of the Journal of Shopping Center Research, however, author Rhonda Phillips states that "Retail is a mainstay of local economies - sales taxes are a major revenue source for many communities. On average, retail tax payments to the community are higher than for office, residential or industrial properties."

Understanding this helps shed some light on a key question in the current debate over the source of Norwood's current budget deficit. Some have pointed to the debt incurred by past investments in street repairs and other infrastructure improvements. They blame past administrations for miscalculating the potential for Rookwood and other tax revenues to cover these and other expenses.

The reality is that thousands of cities across the country have had to react to declining revenues brought on by the recent recession and the economic impact of 9-11. What Norwood is experiencing is not unique.

For its part, Rookwood continues to perform well both in terms of income for the city of Norwood and success for its tenants. And it will remain a key element (though not the only element) in Norwood's continuing economic growth.


Steve Thornbury, a 17-year resident of Norwood, works at a local advertising agency.

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