By Bradley Harrington
“A major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it … gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.” — Milton Friedman, “Capitalism and Freedom,” 1962 —
For those with an interest as to why Cheyenne’s downtown has experienced hardly any serious economic development in 30-plus years, the answers were just handed to you a few days ago.
The irony is that the two men who provided them also happen to be two of the men who bear a fair share of the responsibility for why things remain that way: Randy Bruns, President of Cheyenne LEADS, and Dale Steenbergen, President and CEO of the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce.
In their recent guest column, for instance, they state: “From 1916 until the mid-1980s, the Hynds Building at Capitol Avenue and Lincolnway was a viable part of Cheyenne’s downtown … However, this ‘queen of downtown’ has sat vacant for more than 30 years …” (“Why the Hynds, and why now?”, WTE, Feb 28.)
So: How is it that such a building, sitting right at what is debatably the most economically valuable spot of Cheyenne’s downtown, should remain empty all these years?
For those answers, read on: “During the past 30 years … the Hynds has been shown to, and considered by, an untold number of prospective users. In every case, the burdens and expense of redeveloping a historic downtown building have turned the prospective user away.”
What “burdens and expense”? The “overwhelming hurdles,” it turns out, consist of having to work with “the State Historic Preservation Office, the National Park Service, the USDA, the Wyoming congressional delegation staff, local government officials and others …”
Well, Dear Readers, that’s an awful lot of bureaucrats to deal with, so I’m not surprised that “prospective users” of the Hynds Building have — for over three decades now — quailed when contemplating the magnitude of such tasks. Shucks, you’d have to spend millions of dollars just to get all of that done — and you’d see nary a new girder or fire-suppression sprinkler system for all of that money. And you’d STILL be looking at the actual, constructional, costs of development.
Is it any wonder, given such circumstances, why this building has sat, like a huge tombstone in a desolate downtown cemetery, for all of that time? Why would anyone seriously interested in making profits ever consider the folly of throwing millions of dollars away to a bunch of bureaucrats?
No worries needed on that front, however — for “the City of Cheyenne, the Downtown Development Authority, and especially the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce and Cheyenne LEADS” are leaping into this fray in order to assist with “the complex issues the development of this historic property poses.”
So, if the bureaucratic “obstacles” to overcome just mentioned a few paragraphs earlier aren’t enough alphabet soup to choke on, we’ll go ahead and add four more organizations to that mix.
One can only continue to wonder: How is that the Hynds Building ever got built in the first place, without all of this “help” — or any of the rest of Cheyenne’s downtown, for that matter?
The answer, for anyone who wants to bother to investigate, is that such buildings were constructed by their owners in order to make profits. Which they did — until all the bureaucrats, along with their government guns, showed up to the party.
It is not a coincidence that both the Hynds Building, as well as the rest of Cheyenne’s downtown, began experiencing their “development” difficulties at the same time governments started assuming a much greater role in “economic development.” (Cheyenne’s DDA, for instance, was formed in 1984.)
So: Given these facts, has it ever occurred to either Bruns or Steenbergen that the “obstacles” to overcome are not the manner in which the bureaucrats are negotiated with — but the bureaucrats themselves?
As two individuals allegedly devoted to “downtown development,” the greatest service both Bruns and Steenbergen could be performing right now, would be advocating an end to these meddlesome intrusions into the free market. Instead, their idea of “help” consists of offering their “services” as “negotiators.” They are, therefore, part of the problem, and it is to that degree that they, themselves, should bear some of the responsibility for these “development” disasters.
So, Mr. Bruns and Mr. Steenbergen: If it IS true that you are both as dissatisfied with “the status quo” as you claim — then WHY are you not in the forefront of proposing that we clear all the bureaucrats out of the way and let free men and women develop their properties peacefully as they see fit?
Do that, and you’ll both have “prospective users” pounding on your doors.
Bradley Harrington is a computer technician and a writer who lives in Cheyenne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: This column was originally published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle on March 5, 2017. Here is this column’s original downloadable PDF file.