I recently heard a story about a city that purchased a golf course. The story went something like this:
Once upon a time a city purchased a golf course to develop densely packed housing, retail and commercial dwellings. This was the first time that this city had gone into the real estate business. The city had gotten the housing boom bug.
Years passed as developers interested in the city’s project realized that it was not such a good place to build houses. Things were looking increasingly bleak for this city. They were becoming embarrassed by their decision to spend taxpayers money for what was beginning to look like a “pig in a poke.”
To the rescue out of nowhere or “somewhere” came a developer at the last minute. Oh, how pleased the city and its leaders were that finally someone raised their hand and said, “I will rescue the city from the citizen uprising.”
Nearly a year went by as the mysterious developer dragged out the time line with this excuse and that excuse. The city accommodated their every wish for fear of losing another developer and getting egg on their face again. The citizens living in the golfing community cried and cried.
One day a gloomy, disheartened citizen was approached and told the golf course was saved and the city would keep it open for another year at least. The citizen leaped with joy – “What?” he cried, “Is this true?” This Paul Revere citizen ran down the street with the news to everyone in the community. “We are saved!” shouted the citizen, “We are saved for another year.” All rejoiced and spread the word.
Alas, upon hearing the “word,” media inquired only to get denials from the city that this was indeed not true. “How can this be?” asked the citizen. The source was sworn to secrecy so the citizen was puzzled, and again the citizens fell into despair.
Time dragged on and on as the citizens were again agonizing over the fate of their community.
One day, unexpectedly, the city announced that “We reject these developers.” The leaders that had said the city would never keep a golf course suddenly began to say, “Hey, we would like to see it as a municipal golf course.” The citizens could not contain themselves. They rejoiced, celebrated, and watched the sunset they thought they had lost.
After a while the citizens had time to reflect on this turn of events. What prompted this decision that the citizens had wanted all along? All this time these citizens were saying the same thing that was now the city’s idea.
The citizens said, “Something is fishy here.” The media said, “Something is fishy here.” Everyone said, “Something is fishy here.”
The citizens snooped and discovered that the developer had wanted to drop the project and had communicated this to the city some time ago. This was about the same time the Paul Revere citizen got the information that the golf course was good for another year.
The citizens snooped some more. They found that to help the city save face, the developer agreed to submit such an obnoxious development plan that the city would reject the plan and look like saviors for the citizens. At the same time these snoopy citizens saw with their own eyes the communication from months ago that announced the golf course would be operated for another year.
The city saved face, the developers lost nothing, and the citizens suffered.
“Is this the end – are we safe now?“asked the citizens. “No, we think not,” they all agreed.
Maybe we should take a lesson from these citizens’ experience with their city, and we should remain vigilant, too.