Notes on the state of things

Notes on the state of things

There is talk in Pittsburgh’s Hill District of the heavily taxpayer-funded Shop ‘n’ Save grocery store closing. But it remains unclear whether that’s because the store is failing, whether its government-chosen overseers are failing or both.

The grocery store, which opened in October 2013, reportedly hasn’t paid its rent since last spring. While media accounts suggest that rent has been withheld because the landlord – the financially struggling Hill House Association – has not maintained the property, another business in the complex suggests there’s not enough traffic to maintain a customer base.

But now further complicating matters is talk from city politicians about perhaps another grocery store operator taking over the site. Gee, how much more in public subsidies will be sought?

Here’s an idea: If Shop ‘n’ Save does close, how about putting up the rights to operate another grocery store to the highest bidder? If no bids come, that’s clear affirmation that the profit prospects – i.e. success — are dim.

The evidence, albeit anecdotal at this point, is suggesting a landlord that can’t manage/maintain the property and a location that can’t produce enough traffic to support it.

No one should be surprised. Why? When government practices the perversion of marketplace interventionism, things built that the private investment pool would not end up struggling and, ultimately, fail. And then, those whose intervention led to the failure in the first place, seek another intervention to cover up that failure.

Why? Hubris? Legacy-building? “Because it’s the right thing to do?”

The marketplace is an impressive tutor. Yet activists and their political acolytes always believe they know better. History shows otherwise.

Well, it’s pretty much official: WOW Air won’t be flying again at Pittsburgh International Airport anytime soon.

At least that’s the word from county Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis. In fact, she tells the Post-Gazette that the authority will be seeking to recover a percentage of the $800,000 in subsidies and waived landing fees that were part and parcel to a two-year deal cut with WOW in 2017. Flights began in June of that year.

Exactly how much is being sought is not being made public. But one can surmise it will be a pro-rated amount.

WOW began experiencing financial difficulties last fall. And this month, it told USA Today it would end service in eight of 12 markets. It continues to serve Baltimore/Washington, Boston, Detroit and Newark.

Still, Cassotis characterizes WOW flights out of Pittsburgh, suspended on Jan. 11, as something of a great success and hopes when WOW is ready to expand again that Pittsburgh is at the top of its list.

But if these flights were such a success here, why were they canceled? And if there’s truly a market for these flights, why hasn’t some other airline swooped in to take advantage of the profit potential that WOW supposedly is leaving on the table?

That said, if WOW recovers and seeks to restore its Pittsburgh flights, will it do so by risking its own money in pursuit of profit? Or will the Airport Authority yet again encourage it to belly up to the trough filled with public dollars?

Inquiring minds want to know.

From the email inbox, part of a letter from a reader:

“I read your report in today’s 1/20/19 (Washington) Observer-Reporter highlighting potential issues with transportation funding in Pennsylvania with great personal interest.

“My husband and I are two-thirds complete with building a home in North Strabane that may one day be impacted by the Southern Beltway (I-79 to Mon/Fay section). We are hopeful that this section never gets built as currently planned (Section 1 Green Alt Option 1A).

“With construction begun on the Pa. 22 to I-79 section and acquisition beginning on the insanely expensive Rt. 51 to I-376/Monroeville, we are hanging our hopes on funding becoming an issue for the project’s completion.”

But how tragic it would be if this family — or any family — sees its property taken for a highway never to be built and/or for a highway – any highway – whose “need” is dubiously demonstrated.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).