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But the Power & Light District's actual performance looks nothing like C.H. Johnson's predictions.
According to the city, the district generated just $4.1 million in taxes last year. (Cordish is contesting its property-tax bill, which may reduce this number further.)
Cordish officials promise that more businesses are coming soon. As it stands, Jos. A. Bank menswear is the only shop to open on the retail block south of the Midland.
But the city and the state aren't counting on dry-goods merchants to carry the day. C.H. Johnson's 2005 report imagined that two-thirds of the new spending would occur in restaurants — the piece of the entertainment district that's mostly complete.
To make up for C.H. Johnson's misguided projections and the district's sluggish delivery, the city will spend a $3 million reserve fund that it set aside when the bonds were sold. An additional $4.6 million will be sucked from the general fund, which pays for police, trash removal and other city services.
C.H. Johnson officials, for their part, suggest that it's unfair to judge their work by, well, reality.
I e-mailed Charles Johnson, the company's president. I asked if he had any idea what was keeping the district from meeting its sales-per-square-foot projections. He, in turn, wanted to know if the project had been built as specified "or is it smaller, hence not achieving critical mass?"
Johnson then took the tack that asking him to be accountable was unfair.
"It is absolutely essential to recognize the gap from when our projections [were] done and the product actually built — there are years and decision[s] we are not party to," he wrote in an e-mail. "We prepare work at a snapshot in time and thousands of changes happen from whence our report is issued, none of which we are party to."
Which is another way of saying, We'll cash your check, but don't expect us to stand by our work the moment the report touches your hand.
In fairness to Johnson, his consultants had no way of knowing that Cordish would overstate its ability to attract tenants. It has been four years since Blake Cordish told reporters that 80 percent of the tenants were "signed and sealed." Apparently not.
But C.H. Johnson's body of work suggests that the company is more a cheerleader for development than a cold-eyed arbiter.
In Boston, acting at the behest of the Chamber of Commerce, the company studied the economic impact of replacing historic Fenway Park. The 1999 study concluded that a new ballpark would create $204 million annually in new spending and create 3,000 jobs. City and state leaders ultimately discarded the recommendation. It was a wise choice. Instead, the Red Sox added seats to the existing park, which remains a huge attraction. The team is able to command $20 for a standing-room ticket.
Consulting is a sweet gig, in that a job for one client can help create another job further down the line.
In 2003, the C.H. Johnson crew did a study encouraging the city of St. Charles, Missouri, to build a convention center. A few years later, the consultants were back in neighboring St. Louis, telling the city that its facilities were falling behind.
The left-behind argument figured prominently into C.H. Johnson's study of the Power & Light District. The consultants warned that a lot of the cool, new stuff was being built on the Kansas side of the state line.