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Our view: Link, city spat could have been avoided




Like the drunk who picks fights with his wife as a pretense for storming out and heading for the corner bar, the Golden Triangle Development Link left Columbus in a huff Thursday. 


Almost as soon as the last of a pair of talks between city council members and Link senior staff had ended Thursday, the Link issued a news release announcing the Link and the city had agreed the Link would no longer serve as the city's retail development recruiter. 


But some agreements are more "agreeable" than others and it is clear this parting of the ways was done at the Link's insistence. 


The issue that lead to the split materialized 10 days ago, when Retail Strategies, an Alabama-based retail development firm, made a presentation during a special-call meeting of the city council. A proposal to enter into a three-year, $88,000 contract with the firm during Tuesday's regular council meeting was tabled after Columbus Mayor Robert Smith argued the council should first meet with Link representatives, which have handled the city's retail development since 2003, before making any decision. Smith said moving ahead with that vote would be a "slap in the face" to Link CEO Joe Max Higgins and his staff. 


Seldom has Smith been more accurate in an assessment. 


Higgins told The Dispatch that Thursday's decision was the Link's alone, saying the partnership had been irreparably broken because of the city failed to inform the Link of its possible plans to add another retail developer. 


There is little question that the council acted foolishly in failing to bring the Link into the loop from the get-go. 


As we stated here Wednesday, any discussions should have included the Link in an effort to determine whether adding another consulting firm would complement or duplicate the services already provided by the Link. 


In its press release, the Link attempted to smooth over the dispute, saying it was politely stepping aside while the city pursued other options. That characterization of the dispute breaks down at a critical point, however. The city has yet to enter into a contract with Retail Strategies. There is nothing to suggest that the council may not have chosen to end its discussions with Retail Strategies after hearing the Link's position during Thursday's meetings. 


There are two things that should not be forgotten when the relationship between the Link and the city are considered: First, while the Link's success in bringing industrial development to the area has often overshadowed its success on the retail front, the Link has played a significant role in the growth of the city's retail business. Higgins said the Link has been involved in bringing 113 retail businesses to Columbus since the Link's formation in 2003. 


Second, the city has paid for the Link's efforts: This year's city budget appropriated $110,000 for the Link.  


Higgins insists that the break between the city and the Link involves only its role in retail development. The Link will still work with the city's Chamber of Commerce and recruit industry to the city, along with other services, he said. 


The city may have a different view. It, too, has some say in what its relationship with the Link will be going forward. It may conclude that forking over $110,000 for services that don't include retail development isn't worth the cost.  


The Council made a mistake, no doubt, but it was a mistake that might have been easily overlooked had Link officials wished to do so. 


If the Link had any interest in providing retail development for the city of Columbus, you can bet it would be still doing that job today. 


Certainly, each party bears responsibility. 


City residents will bear the consequences. 


They always do.



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