An Offer They Can’t Refuse?

Jeremy Aldrich -- January 8th, 2009

According to the DNR, Rosetta Stone is asking the city government for a bargain-priced building, a significant traffic change and precious upper-deck parking spaces at the Water Street deck.  In return, they are dangling the tantalizing offer of 100 new well-paying jobs.

Rosetta Stone, in case you didn’t know, makes popular (and heavily advertised) language-learning software.  It was formerly known as Fairfield Language Technologies, but the name of the company was changed in 2006.

The property in question used to be the police headquarters until the HPD moved into the more spacious public safety building in 2005.  Rosetta Stone has offered $300,000 for the 14,400 square foot building, significantly less than similar buildings listed for sale on the city’s Economic Development website.   According to Brian Shull at the Economic Development office, the market value of the property is around $850,000.  In 2006, the city school division considered purchasing the building for administrative use but was concerned that the lot might eventually be needed for a future jail expansion.  Shull says that there is no money available for such an expansion in the near future, and there would be other options if that need did arise.

The proposed traffic change would mean making an additional section of Water Street – the section with the wooden bridge between South Liberty and South High – a one-way street.  According to Shull the reason for the proposed change is to accomodate Rosetta Stone’s concern for pedestrian safety between their current offices and the new building.  The current proposal is actually a compromise, as the original request was to completely close that section of the street.  A shut-down of the road is to be reconsidered in February of next year, according to the purchase agreement.

Guaranteed leases on the coveted upper-deck parking spaces at the deck on Water Street are also called for in the proposal.  According to a city website, the leases for those spaces sell out every year.  The proposal calls for 175 guaranteed parking spaces for Rosetta Stone (out of 208 total spaces available in the leased area).  Jessica Chase at Downtown Parking says that the company currently leases about 100 spaces there.  She adds that they are constantly monitoring the use of the facility to balance the needs of the lessees, those using the free ten-hour parking, and those using the free three-hour parking.  An additional part of the proposal seems to call for a freeze on the current price of $25 per month per space (if the lease is paid annually) lasting for the next two years, with an option to extend the agreement an additional two years after that.  As an aside, plans mentioned on the outdated city parking website to move some of the leased spaces to the first level of the Water Street Deck have been tabled, although Chase notes that some of the spaces on top of the deck have been made available for free parking.

In return for these three concessions, Rosetta Stone would be required  to create 100 new jobs paying at least with an average wage of  $50,000.  The new jobs would be “across all disciplines”, according to the newspaper article.  In today’s paper, there is an article about the local unemployment rate rising to 4% in November, which is a reflection of the national economic slump.  Of course, there is no guarantee on how many of those hundred new employees would come from the local employment pool, or how many would live or shop within the city limits.

The City Council will consider the proposal on Tuesday night, following a period for public comment.

179 Responses to “An Offer They Can’t Refuse?”

  1. Renee says:

    @Barkley Rosser – Good point about the languages spoken in the local schools.

    @kai – well said.

  2. Flanna Sheridan says:

    Kai: Your response to JulieBra was much more constructive than what I would have been able to bring myself to write.

    Dear Julie,
    I suppose they don’t teach you to spell naive where you’ve come from.

  3. Renee says:

    @Flanna – Hehe – or “aluminum”

    Anyway, JulieBra – have you considered that a savvy group of local people that live in the ‘Burg developed this great website you were able to comment on, and wrote the articles, and wrote all of the comments above? I searched through all 14000+ comments (presumably left mostly by locals) and didn’t find one “ain’t” that wasn’t used in a literary sense, like “say it ain’t so” or “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts” (seriously).

    Also, “warshed” is specifically a Pennsylvania-area accent, and I haven’t heard that often around here. Yes, some people in the area do speak with a country twang, but what does that have to do with being able to program computers or work in sales or customer support? It is possible to be proficient in both “country-sounding English” and “Visual Basic .NET” languages, you know.

    Have you ever been to Harrisonburg? I thought all doubts about whether we were too “redneck” might have been answered when Harrisonburg City went for both a recent-JMU-grad Councilman (Kai), and Barack Obama back in November. :)

    Oh, well.

  4. charlie chenault says:

    Lowell – I am sorry I missed your post yesterday. We must be the same age because your memories are identical to mine regarding our youthful downtown experiences. What a great time to grow up. We will see each other soon to talk about the pictures and the experience. You may remember the State Theater fire – my grandmother perished in it. I do not have the square footages; however, the Leggett building is committed to the Children’s Museum and the police station as is is not large enough for the school board offices without significant renovation (asbestos for example). While One Court Square could accommodate the school board offices with renovation from a square footage standpoint, it is my sincere hope that it will return to private hands for development. I think the estimate for the school board office portion of the public/private partnership proposal is about $3.5- to $4 million. Brian – Hope you are doing well. A traffic study was done on Water Street which showed much more traffic traveling east west than west east – in fact it was significant. One of the reasons not to cave on closing the street entirely was public safety – emergency vehicles not getting stuck by the train.
    Thanks – Charlie

  5. Brian M says:

    Thanks for your response, Charlie. I am doing very well as I hope you are. I assumed that there was a traffic study done of West Water Street and it sounds like the results matched what I’ve seen over the years. It’s frustrating to see cross-traffic options reduced, but I guess that’s progress. lol

    And it’s always nice to hear that emergency vehicle traffic was seriously considered. Thanks for all your hard work.

  6. Drew Richard says:

    The employees of RS are very diverse. I know of 3 other current employees that I graduated from TA with that went to BC, W&M, and JMU. There are many people, with diverse educational backgrounds and from a wiiiide range of people. The company was started with almost entirely local people (and there are still a bunch working there), but definitely has a large number of employees from other countries as well which is great to see in this area. While the city still seems reluctant to grow and become more open-minded, it is on the right track. I find it very frustrating to read the DNR articles online because of all the close-minded people, which makes coming on here very refreshing. I know lots of my JMU friends that would love to live in Harrisonburg (and many that have stayed after graduation) if they could find a job in their discipline, but at this point, varied jobs are hard to come by (especially with the economy in bad times), but things are looking up. I think if more places like UE open up, and the city keeps expanding, adding more stores, restaurants, and high-tech or high-paying jobs, you will see a greater number of JMU grads staying here. Saying that you don’t have the opportunity to follow your dreams in Harrisonburg (within reason…) is, as you would say, ‘niave’. I would say the same thing to anyone who feels limited at JMU. JMU and Harrisonburg have soooo many opportunities. I saw Kai give a speech to the incoming JMU freshmen last year at the 1787 Convocation and I don’t think there’s any way you’ll be able to convince him that he has been limited in this area in any way.

  7. Emmy says:

    I heard back from the lady in charge for the city schools and she set each of my kids up with an account. I wish I’d known about this sooner.

    I want to clarify that I’m glad Rosetta Stone is here and I hope they continue to grow and prosper. I also hope that if this is the best route for the city, then they work out a great deal.

    I know a number of people who work there, all of them locals, and they all love it. I guess my frustration comes out of the tone of the DNR article on the matter and the frustration that a number of my very intelligent friends and acquaintances have had with getting an interview. I always hope that local companies look to their neighbors first for talent, this isn’t limited to Rosetta Stone.

  8. Bill says:

    It appears to me that there is a legitimate need by the city to help Rosetta Stone expand at its downtown location. The problem of the jail expansion will not go away and in the near future will have to be addressed. There are solutions, albeit expensive ones to expanding the jail on its current footprint. More than likely an expansion to the jail would involve a higher structure, taking part, if not all of the adjaicent Water Street, or taking other property near the current court buildings for jail expansion to be near the courts. It has been mentioned in previous posts that the jail be moved to the country. That was discussed deeply and seriously when the current jail was being designed and debated. At that time the county wanted the jail and the courts to be moved to Pleasant Valley, but the local bar and several members of the city council wanted it to stay downtown. If expansion space is not adequate at the current location, the county’s original option might have to be pursued, leaving the downtown area not only free of a jail, but quite possibly free of the courts that are located there. The logic of having the courts near the jail is to reduce both the danger and the cost of prisoner transfer from lockup to court. There are lots of questions to be answered. But if I had to guess what the decision might be, it would be that the city will look at the present (Rosetta Stone) and make a deal and worry about the future (the need for jail expansion) later and ask the county to assist it with another taking of property near the jail downtown in the near future, that being the next 3-5 years. Moving a jail that is relatively new and relocating it at another location would be a very expensive ordeal to say the least. I do not envy the new council and the decision before them- it’s not a clear cut win-win. Good luck, we are all going to have to live with the decision they make. I only hope we don’t have to pay a lot for it.

  9. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    For whatever reason, the figure Brian Shull gave me on the value of the property is different from the figure in the DNR this morning, which says it is worth $1.16 million. If the DNR’s figures are correct, that would mean that if the deal goes through the city is effectively subsidizing these 100 new jobs for $8600 each.

  10. Jamie Smith says:

    Is Jim Deskins involved in this deal? He was always good at giving away parking spaces and giving big discounts on HRHA properties. Recent city councils have done quite well in this regard. Look at the old high school and the farmers market property. Big discount on the school and lots of lost parking spaces in the latter.
    As to the expanded jail there is always the old Denton building. It won’t be available at 25% of assessed value but it can be had.

  11. JGFitzgerald says:

    And the city’s website says it’s worth 929K. Assessment is apparently an art, not a science.

  12. Jaimie, I’m fairly certain that Deskins hasn’t been involved in city decisions since he left for Winchester. That was almost a decade ago. I’m thinking early 2001.

  13. JGFitzgerald says:

    Yes, Deskins left in 2k1.

    BTW, how could the DNR write 451 words about this topic without addressing a single one of the questions raised in this thread?

  14. Jamie Smith says:

    I apologize. I was being facetious. It just looks like Jim’s old MO that the city has adopted.

  15. charlie chenault says:

    What was the big discount on the old high school?
    Thanks – Charlie

  16. Peppa says:

    They have already started improvements on that old building.
    I actually noticed someone working in there for the last week or so…It’s what you call a….. DONE DEAL!

  17. Lowell says:

    Is “Jamie Smith” the same as “James Smith” the same as “Jimmy Smith” the same as “Larry King”? And maybe perhaps also “Peppa”?

  18. Lowell says:

    Looks like the proposal has passed first vote. Many good questions were asked, and addressed. Our new council members seem to be committed to open process, and the best interests of Harrisonburg and the larger community.

    Apparently there were really no negative concerns raised during the public hearing, and much thought and study had been invested into the short and long term effects of Rosetta Stone’s proposal.

    Our new Council Members are representing the City Voters well…

  19. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    According to Byrd and to Rosetta Stone HR manager Shawna Fowble, the current number of employees in the city is about 450. So according to this agreement, we should be able to expect they will have 550 employees within the next few years. Who in the city government will be monitoring that, or what will happen to the agreement if they fall below that number, remains an unanswered question.

    Fowble also said she would let me know tomorrow what percentage of their recent hires have been local.

  20. I was also there for the comments and voting (I’m still here) and the public comments were overwhelmingly in favor of the sale of the building to RS. I counted nine comments in favor, one against (or one skeptical comment, whichever you’d prefer), one comment asking that the city not make the street one-way, and two in favor, on the condition that RS donate interpreting equipment to local pro bono translators.

    While I understand the concern for employee safety, I think it’s fairly presumptuous that RS wanted a complete closure of the street, with no traffic flowing east or west.

  21. Emmy says:

    I agree Brent.

  22. Original 'burger says:

    All this talk about jobs and parking places…YIKE! The real travesty in this deal is the possible full closure of our only true internal East-West bypass….The Water Street Bridge. This bridge is a Godsend when the Norfolk Southern bisects our fair city at 7AM and 1PM. Has saved many a HHS student from being tardy. Especially when the VPGC 75 unit train comes through en route to Linville.
    Let Roseta Stone build an overhead walkway and spare the street shutdown.

  23. Original 'burger says:

    I, too, agree with Brent re:”presumptuous that RS wanted complete street closure”
    It’s our city’s only internal bridge to get around the Norfolk Southern bisector. It’s convenient and it’s safer to have the throughway.
    Let Rosetta Stone build a walk way over the Water street and keep the traffic flowing.

  24. Andy Perrine says:

    Tonight I was one of the nine citizens to provide comments in favor of the property sale to Rosetta Stone. I was there in my role as president of the board of directors of Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance – as I have been in the past — to deliver a board motion endorsing the sale. As for full disclosure, my position as board president is completely volunteer, I own no commercial property downtown and our board vote was unanimous.

    The point of commenting on this blog after the Council’s vote is to observe how different the sentiment was in the room at Council Chambers tonight than it was online here at and at Mayor Degner asked by a show of hands at the beginning of the public hearing how many citizens were present to comment in favor of the sale and how many were present to comment against the sale. All but one citizen was there in favor — and the lone dissenter was there not to comment against the sale — he was there for his church located at a nearby property simply to advocate against the proposed change in traffic patterns on Water Street.

    It was an overwhelmingly supportive crowd at council tonight. Yet, the online sentiment was far more negative.

    So I would like to offer my personal opinion here tonight that local blogging and comments on media outlet websites seem to be less and less representative of true public opinion, and consequently, less relevant.

    Believe me, I am not intending to cast aspersions at, or any other online forum; I am all for democratization of the media. Rather, there seems to be a growing number of local citizens who simply take shots at the process without actually getting involved. I guess it’s a lot easier to post comments online — no matter how toxic or unsupported by truth these comments are, especially if you’re posting anonymously — than it is to actually get involved in the process and advocate for the opinion you support.

    Additionally, my point is to observe that there are many people in public service, many folks who volunteer their personal time and also many people in the private sector — such as Rosetta Stone — who are working very hard to move Harrisonburg and Rockingham County forward. But as they work and public issues come up such as tonight’s property sale vote, or the new wayfinding signs, or any number of other local efforts to improve our city, these people must withstand the withering outrageousness, uninformed and often profane online discourse posted by those who don’t truly participate. Why?

    And please make no mistake — I am not railing against those who simply possess opposing views as mine; I disagree to my very bone marrow with frequent local online commenter David Briggman. But I respect the guy because he identifies himself online and actually participates in the process.

    Here’s a proposal – let’s stop responding to anonymous posters. Sure, they’re entitled to their views and the ability to express them. Heck, Madison’s Federalist #10 — one of the most respected political treatises ever — states that a successful republican democracy relies on a diversity of opinion.

    But after tonight’s chamber meeting — where true citizen opinion as expressed by residents willing to show up was so completely opposite to the online chatter — I say we should simply ignore those not willing to participate honestly and with the courage of their convictions.

  25. Scott says:

    So I would like to offer my personal opinion here tonight that local blogging and comments on media outlet websites seem to be less and less representative of true public opinion, and consequently, less relevant.

    Andy — If you’re saying that the comments on hburgnews about the Rosetta Stone aren’t necessarily representative of true public opinion, I tend to agree — though your conclusion is based on nine people who were willing to show up and vocalize their thoughts tonight, and nine people certainly isn’t a very good sample size. There could have been 99,000 who stayed home and were passively opposed to the sale. ;)

    What’s interesting to me is that I suspect that all of the *readers* (not commentors) of hburgnews are very likely a good representation of public opinion, but most of them don’t speak up in the comments.

    My curiosity, then, is whether an hburgnews reader who is uninformed on a particular issue would be persuaded in one direction or another by hburgnews comments, or whether they would realize that the comments don’t necessarily reflect general public opinion.

    Furthermore, though this issue because quite heated and convoluted in the comments, I think hburgnews is becoming ever more relevant. Hburgnews was one of the only places (the only place?) where someone could come to know (and maybe understand?) the pros and cons of this issue. As you reference, many comments did have a rather negative perspective on the Rosetta Stone purchase, which does not necessarily jive with public opinion — but as a result, lots of issues and perspectives on the purchase, and on public policy relative to economic development were explored here.

    I think hburgnews is continually becoming a more relevant part of not only news in our community, but also a forum for further exploration of the issues, challenges and opportunities in our community.

  26. Over the past several years, I’ve gone to so many local events where people speak out on behalf of one issue or another, and I still can’t tell who the real majority is. Take the immigration commission forum in August. The community members that spoke out were overwhelmingly “pro -immigrant” (though you would never know that by reading the DNR story). Yet Del. Todd Gilbert told Mellott that he didn’t feel he was getting a real “sense of the community.”

    All one can really deduce from the people that speak out at public hearings is: those are the people that speak out at public hearings. It’s not an accurate, scientific poll. Neither are online comments. However, I will agree that, as a general rule, Internet anonymity tends to encourage cowardly commentary.

    As I was walking out of tonight’s meeting, a friend said something along the lines of, “I don’t understand why they didn’t negotiate a rental price, instead of a sale event.” It was one of those “hey… yeah!” moments, but it came to my attention far too late. Clementine, Blue Nile, and most office spaces downtown are rented and renovated, rather than sold. But the owner retains the ultimate benefit of, well, ownership.

  27. Renee says:

    I think you explained things well, Scott. Hburgnews readers are one chunk of the Harrisonburg population, just as people that attend City Council meetings are another chunk. Neither is scientifically a large enough sampling to make any statement about representing the general Harrisonburg population’s opinion.

    I also didn’t get the feel that the comments here were overwhelmingly negative or against the idea. It seemed to me that a lot of people just had questions and wanted to make sure the Council wasn’t giving RS a “free pass” with unreasonable city concessions.

    In addition, the discourse here and questions asked are certainly valuable. I wish we had the resources to have an “hburgnews representative” at every City Council meeting that could read some of the comments left here to the decision-makers to add to the discussion there. I know Kai wants to implement a way for the public to provide feedback to the council online, and I’m sure a lot of us blog-commenters will be sure to post our ideas that way!

    I never would have heard of the Rosetta Stone “issue” had it not been brought up on this blog (or on Kai’s new whykai mayor blog).

  28. Renee says:

    P.S. I think the comments/opinions here tend to more varied, thought-out, and politely discussed than on other online news-reaction message boards (ahem, DNR comments).

  29. Emmy says:

    “I also didn’t get the feel that the comments here were overwhelmingly negative or against the idea. It seemed to me that a lot of people just had questions and wanted to make sure the Council wasn’t giving RS a “free pass” with unreasonable city concessions.”

    This is how I feel about it Renee. I’m not at all opposed to this happening, I just took issue with some of the wording and had my own personal opinions. None of my issues with this are enough to make me go to the meeting and speak up against it, because I’m not against it. The only thing that would have made me go speak up would have been if the idea of closing the road had appeared to be a real possibility.

    Looking back I do wish I’d gone to the meeting where they talked about the way finding signs.

  30. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    I think the online sentiment (here, anyway) was more skeptical and cautious, not outright negative towards the deal. And I think caution and skepticism are in order when the government is giving away property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. There are many reasons why one wouldn’t want to go on record as objecting to the deal as written, especially given the current economic climate and the way the deal has been spun by Rosetta Stone and the Economic Development folks. But there are a number of questions about the deal and its effects that remain unanswered, largely because they weren’t asked. I really value the discussions at hburgnews which allow us to share links, ask questions respectfully, and provide information to other people in our community.

    At last night’s meeting, I know of at least two others who were ready to speak about their reservations concerning the plan but decided not to because of the way the public hearing was introduced (“Raise your hand if you plan to speak against it”), the information presented, and the tone of the comments in favor of the deal.

    As to anonymous commenters, the only comments here by people I don’t know were in support of the plan, or on extraneous issues (like the intelligence of the locals or what Rosetta Stone gave to schools).

  31. Peppa says:

    I think people tend not to speak out at the public hearings because of past experience. If you went to the hearing for the sale of the high school, the public spoke strongly aganst the sale – over and over. Result, the sale was made anyway. Too many times these comments are tolerated by the council and ignored. They do what they “feel is best” no matter what the people say. I was at that meeting and spoke out against with a room full of others. I, like others, believe it was a waist of time and effort.

  32. JGFitzgerald says:

    Rarely is any new information presented at a public hearing. A majority of council members are aware of what was written here on this issue. They had most likely heard extensively from downtown, staff, and Rosetta people. They could have been swayed by new information, an argument they had not considered, or evidence that a vast majority of the citizenry opposed the sale (as opposed to, no offense intended, 60 percent of those who comment in advance).

    Most sentient council members will have some idea which way they’re leaning before the hearing begins. They wait to commit, not out of lip service to the concept of a public hearing, but out of respect for those who show up and comment.

    A council member who based an important decision only on what he or she heard in the public hearing and staff presentation would be remiss. On complicated and controversial issues, much listening and gathering of information is required well in advance. That doesn’t make it a done deal. It means that if you want to be heard on an issue, you need to talk to a council member before the meeting, when there’s more time, there’s no TV camera, and there aren’t ten other agenda issues waiting to be discussed.

  33. Peppa says:

    Joe, that pretty well sums it up. And that is the feeling that most of the public has. Not to harp on the high school, I know many people including myself talked to council members before the meeting, expressed our feelings and received little response or consideration. The only support for that sale was from JMU and the council. CC you asked “what was the big discount on the high school” well, a whole city block sold way under market value.

  34. Andy Perrine says:

    I feel that I must reiterate my point. I wrote,

    “Believe me, I am not intending to cast aspersions at, or any other online forum; I am all for democratization of the media. Rather, there seems to be a growing number of local citizens who simply take shots at the process without actually getting involved.” is a terrific medium. My comments were directed toward what seems to be a preponderance of heckling by commenters, rather than reasoned and thoughtful debate and true citizen involvement. Although, it happens less so here than at

    And believe me Jeremy, there are few more skeptical than me when it comes to dealing with authority and the perennial holders of power. That’s why I am involved in the process.

    Above all, thanks to you all for your reasonable responses to my comment. Maybe it’s not as bad as I perceived it was last night after spending my evening at a city council meeting (after a long day at work).

  35. charlie chenault says:

    Peppa – at the public hearing on the sale of the high school, 11 people spoke against it, all of whom I knew personally (3 of whom now think it was a good idea) and 2 spoke for it. I received over 200 e-mails in favor of the sale and approximately 15 against it. Peppa – your statement that the high school sold way below market value is simply not correct. The market itself determines market value and the highest offer before JMU bought the high school was $8 million – less than one-half of the final sale price. I dispute your statement that only council and JMU supported the sale. You have simply no basis in fact to make that statement. I think you need to talk to more people in a more diverse cross-section of the community about this. Joe hits the nail on the head in his 8:20 a.m. comment as far as I am concerned. Brent – municipalities are not good landlords and should not be competing against the private sector in that regard in my opinion. If you as a private property owner had a restaurant rental prospect and lost that prospect to a city owned property, how would you feel?
    Thanks – Charlie

  36. JGFitzgerald says:

    I remember the high school sale. The city got rid of a beige elephant, one that it couldn’t have sold at “market value,” whatever that might be for an abandoned high school. There are two entities in the ‘Burg big enough to have bought that property, and RMH didn’t want it.

    What I meant to point out in my earlier comment is that you must be involved prior to a public hearing to have maximum impact. I might add that an individual’s impact can be greater if he or she is involved in more than just a single issue.

  37. Don says:

    “If you as a private property owner had a restaurant rental prospect and lost that prospect to a city owned property, how would you feel?”

    Charlie I can respectfully tell you how it feels to lose in transactions with the city because I am an individual homeowner here and whether it’s my real estate taxes going up while property values go down or the council selling taxpayer property at a substantial loss or my personal property being assessed unrealistically, I don’t feel fairly treated. Darn right I know how it feels to lose. Can’t the big dogs lose once in awhile?

    Who looks out for my interest?

  38. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Didn’t the many people selling buildings at market value lose out when Rosetta Stone passed over their properties to get a cut-rate deal from the city? Why pay retail when you can buy for pennies on the dollar at Crazy EcDev’s? ;-)

  39. Peppa says:

    CC, I guess we talk to different people. You have your opinion, I have mine.

  40. charlie chenault says:

    Jeremy – I do not know any people in Harrisonburg that are selling buildings that are complaining about this. It seems like the business community supported this wholeheartedly for obvious reasons of course. Again, bottom line, don’t sell to them, and you will have two buildings available and 500 jobs lost.
    Thanks – Charlie

  41. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Charlie, all due respect, I was responding to your concern about the hypothetical concern of renters competing with the city. And unless Rosetta Stone has actually made a threat to leave the city if the deal didn’t go through, the concern about 500 jobs lost is pretty extreme. It’s hard for me to imagine that rather than spending a few more hundred thousand dollars, they would have chosen to spend several million to move out of the city. If they were in fact making that threat, it would probably be good to know.

  42. charlie chenault says:

    I understand your points Jeremy and very much appreciate them.
    Thanks – Charlie

  43. Peppa says:

    That beige elephant could have been used to house the school board, the city offices located in the municipal building. Or hey, it would have made a good middle school in conjunction with the school board offices. Plus, the sporting fields could have been shared with the new HHS for practice fields since they have to stagger times to accomadate all sports and practice can go well into the evening.

    Just a few quick ideas. I’m sure that someone with more diverse contacts could come up with a few more.

  44. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    As a middle school teacher, we didn’t want the building because the city wasn’t going to renovate it to become appropriate for use by younger students. If we had leased it and then recovered it from JMU in its current renovated condition, it would be awesome as a central office/school. I think it’s fascinating that we as a city can’t find the money to renovate old buildings we already own, but we can find money to build new constructions.

  45. Peppa says:

    Jeremy, that was my thinking. Lease the property to JMU for five years, let them renovate, take it back in it’s newly improved condition and think of all the money that would have been saved.

  46. John Marr says:

    Not to say that the “lease-it to JMU” idea couldn’t have worked, but I’m betting JMU would not have fallen for it.

    To put it in terms that most of us can appreciate, would you sink a huge amount of money into rebuilding a house you are leasing with no option to buy?

  47. kai says:

    Interesting turn in conversation today – thanks for kicking it off, Andy. There’s lots to comment on, but here are a couple quick items:

    1. Jeremy @ 7:21am

    “At last night’s meeting, I know of at least two others who were ready to speak about their reservations concerning the plan but decided not to because of the way the public hearing was introduced (”Raise your hand if you plan to speak against it”), the information presented, and the tone of the comments in favor of the deal.”

    Call it splitting hairs, but I intentionally did not ask for hands being “against” the proposal. After asking for hands in support of the proposal, I asked for hands from people who “want to share further considerations about the proposal.” I framed it this way to intentionally be more inviting for people who were indeed against it and also people who had other comments.

    2. The staff presentation was intended to make it pretty clear that this contract was negotiated with an eye on economic development, rather than simply a real estate deal. Thus, a discussion about the sale price alone is too narrow a context in determining whether it was “a good deal.”

    3. Jeremy @ 1:26pm

    “unless Rosetta Stone has actually made a threat to leave the city if the deal didn’t go through, the concern about 500 jobs lost is pretty extreme”

    The concern wasn’t extreme, not due to a “threat” but rather the commonsense business realities that make relocating more likely if the current location doesn’t suit a company’s envisioned growth.

  48. Jeremy,

    I find it a bit odd that people were cowed into not speaking at the CC meeting because Kai asked for a show of hands from people regarding whether they were for or against. Is it that these people did not wish to state a position and thus somehow felt they could not speak, or were actually negative, but somehow cowed by not being in the majority in the audience in the room?


    Regarding the sale versus rental issue, I think Charlie Chenault basically has it right. The places you mentioned are all renting from private landlords, I think. It has not in general been the practice of Harrisonburg or most cities in this country to engage in widespread renting to private business interests. Why should Harrisonburg get into such a thing now? And, indeed, if one is dealing with a major business that is a significant part of the city’s economic base, I would imagine that they would much prefer to own rather than lease.

    As for all the potential sellers of commercial property to them, I would think that most realize that the location of this building is desirable for RS and there are few who would have any good reason to think that RS would be rushing to buy from them.

    OTOH, I share the concerns of Brent and Burger and others about the Water Street issue. At a minimum, the matter of emergency vehicles needing to get across the RR tracks without any hassle is probably the killer on completely closing the street. Something else needs to be worked out on that particular part of this.

  49. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Kai, thanks for responding. On point 1, sorry if I misheard the way you framed the public hearing; if we had the video archived online we could “play the tape” but I’ll take you at your word.

    I will skip point 2 for now.

    On point 3, the key for me is that there WERE other options – including raising the sale price on this building and acquiring other nearby vacant buildings from private sellers. Those options would have also allowed the company to grow as it needs to without dumping a city property at a bargain-basement price. A couple members of Council own houses valued at more than what Rosetta Stone is paying for that 14,400 square foot building!

    Those other options would still have been cheaper for Rosetta Stone than building an entirely new facility elsewhere. Are we establishing a precedent for other businesses that if you see a vacant city property you like, we’ll give it to you for a fraction of its market value?

    By selling the building for such a low price, we have made it more difficult for the city coffers to benefit from the Rosetta Stone expansion. How many years of property tax and business property tax will it take just to recoup the difference between the sale price and the market value, much less the costs from traffic changes and parking spaces required in the agreement?

    In return for this investment that will take many years to benefit from, the city is promised 100 new jobs with an average salary of $50,000 within the next five years. But I am still unclear on who will be making sure those jobs exist, how long they are required to exist after created, and what will happen if those jobs cease to exist in the future. Could the jobs be here and gone before this investment in growth is ever paid back in increased tax revenue?

    OK, so I guess I did eventually get to point 2.

    By the way, kudos to everyone who has actually taken the time to read this thread. And double kudos to those who have taken the time to respond.

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