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The Gateway Project Has Great Promise

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One of the favorite nostrums of the hard right in this country, as foolishly reductionist as it is misleading, involves a description of the social and economic landscape as consisting entirely of two groups — "makers" (aka "job creators") and "takers," whom they imagine to be the unwashed masses who remain perpetually on some kind of government dole financed by "confiscatory" taxes on the makers.

That American society, under whatever political administration and guided by whatever elective ideology, is a much more diverse and interrelated aggregation of people and social functions escapes these folks. A shining example of what the country and the system are really like, at best, was offered recently by a proposal involving the closest sort of cooperation between local and state government and one of Memphis' — and the world's — leading social institutions.

The institution in question is the justly famous St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, which draws upon a huge and carefully cultivated private-donor base to maintain and expand its operations but which is not averse to working in close cooperation with government to accomplish mutually beneficial objectives.

A case in point is a freshly launched St. Jude project, known in some quarters as The Gateway Project — in speaking of it, Rick Shadyac, the CEO of ALSAC (American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities), the hospital's parent organization, prefers to use the homier expression "front door" in describing what the project will do.

The less grandiose term is appropriate, considering that Shadyac is the first head of ALSAC, an organization founded by St. Jude creator Danny Thomas, to make his permanent home in Memphis. Shadyac's residence is not far, as the crow flies, from the site of the new project, which involves close cooperation with state, city, and county government. What St. Jude wants to do is to carry out a six-year, $9 billion capital expansion, already underway, on its existing property, in tandem with modifications in existing downtown TDZ (Tourist Development Zone) and TIF (Tax Incremental Financing) projects that would accomplish a wholesale renovation of the Pinch district and Carnes neighborhoods.

Extension of the TDZ under the plan would generate overdue infrastructure improvements in the Pinch. "Our hope is that what we're doing on our campus and in the Pinch district will serve as a catalyst for third-party developers," says Shadyac, who notes that the plan involves relaxation of the current moratorium on new development. Simultaneous expansion of the adjoining Uptown TIF district is expected to fund $13 million of infrastructure improvements in the Uptown and Carnes neighborhoods.

If all goes as projected, St. Jude, which is funding its own parallel capital development, will have a handsome new front door, and so will the city, and, in the long run the TDZ and TIF projects are self-financing, since they are paid through increments in newly generated sales taxes and property taxes, respectively. It's difficult to separate "makers" from "takers" in the arrangement. As is the case with most successful public-private partnerships, everybody — including just plain citizens — is a potential beneficiary.

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