Editorial: A semi-stacked deck


The RFP issued by the city last Tuesday afternoon had become the talk of downtown Greensboro before DGI President Zack Matheny had finished his breakfast at Smith Street Diner on Wednesday morning.

“It’s a big day,” he told a newspaper delivery driver, mid-biscuit.

The request for proposals concerns a pot of money — collected via a special tax for business and property owners in the Downtown Business Improvement District — that had heretofore been earmarked for Matheny’s organization but now, after passage last year of a law initiated by state Sen. Trudy Wade, has been untethered.

It basically means that any entity in the city can make a pitch to undertake the tasks currently performed by DGI, and in the process capture just about all of its revenue stream, which is roughly $600,000 a year.

The RFP went out via email to 25 recipients, among them downtown developer Eric Robert, who has been anticipating the release of these funds almost since he left the DGI board in January 2015. Also on the list: the Greensboro Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Greensboro Merchants Association, the Nussbaum Center for Entrepreneurship, the Greensboro Partnership, Action Greensboro, Elsewhere artist collective, a handful of PR and advertising agencies and downtown consultancy groups — as well as to DGI itself. But anyone with a tax ID number can apply.

The RFP is broken down into five categories: economic development services, planning and development, marketing/communications, public-space management and events management.

The language of the RFP is hazy — it seems that proposals ideally should address every category, including any outsourcing plans, but it seems that consideration might be given to entities cherrypicking certain categories — say, marketing. But the language of the RFP and a reply to a direct question indicates that the city would prefer a single purveyor for this contract.

And as it stands, among those invited to participate, just a few have the experience and economic muscle to meet all these demands.

The GMA could do it. So could the CVB, though they are not located downtown. The Greensboro Partnership could handle the duties, and they could probably use the money. And Action Greensboro, though it technically operates under the auspices of the partnership, could also make a legitimate play for the contract.

And, of course, DGI has some experience delivering this array of services for the stated price.

So in some ways, it appears, the fix is in. Unless the city opts to break the contract into separate tranches, which the fine print of the RFP says it has the right to do, or unless Robert assembles a dream team of downtown development superstars in the next two weeks, the contract will go to one of the usual suspects.

So the question becomes the actual intent of Sen. Wade’s law — whether it was a principled stance against taxation without representation, or a pointed disruption of the seamless flow of BID money from city coffers into DGI’s bank account. Or perhaps it was just to cause a general chaos in the city where she once sat on council. It wouldn’t be the first time.

  • Billy Jones

    Oh Brian, you’re right that it’s a stacked deck but as usual you think short term, never looking to the future. Look at the broader picture. Across the state there are literally hundreds of these MSDs.

    Now imagine if some company decided to take the same approach to operating MSDs as is used to operate say the Winston-Salem and Greensboro transit authorities? You see, both GTA and Winston’s city buses are managed, staffed and driven by employees of the same company. That same company manages transit in lots of cities just as your new boss owns lots of newspapers and employs far fewer people than individually owned newspapers would need to employ.

    This arrangement reduces overhead significantly, eliminating lots of positions at the top and doing away with unnecessary overlap.

    Now as it happens DGI’s current contract is among the first to face this challenge but it won’t be the last. And with hundreds of such MSDs existing state wide I wouldn’t be at all surprised if someone isn’t already working on putting together such a company. As a matter of fact: knowing Trudy and the others behind this effort I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that wasn’t the plan all along.

    Too bad no one at TCB was smart enough to figure it out, you could have been figuring out in who’s favor the deck was stacked for the game and not just the next hand.