Crony Capitalism Comes To Mequon
Let me be clear. I have had many fine meals at restaurants operated by the Bartolotta management group. Establishments like Lake Park Bistro, Mr. B's, Harbor House and Bacchus regularly show up on lists of the area's best restaurants.
My guess is that with its track record of success, Bartolotta's has no trouble getting a favorable line of credit from any one of a number of area lenders when it wants to open a new restaurant. Especially a restaurant in a well healed community like Mequon.
So why did the Mequon Common Council give Bartolotta's a $175,000 loan at 1.75% over 10 years to open a restaurant? And why was the loan approved months after Bartolotta's already announced the opening of the place?
Can you say "crony capitalism"?
For years, a very successful restaurant known as "The Riversite" operated in a shopping center on the corner of Mequon Road and Highway 57 (the actual address is 11120 N. Cedarburg Road). The original owner sold the restaurant to a couple of employees a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, the restaurant closed in September of 2011. In May, Bartolotta's announced they would be opening a new restaurant in this location.
That's great. Bartolotta's is the gold standard for restaurants around here and Mequon is the kind of location where they'll probably do very well. Still, why did the City have to loan them $175,000 at below-market rates?
The loan came from a fund Mequon administers through the Department of Commerce.The $175,000 loan represents about half the balance of the fund.
Should a community really be lending money to businesses that can easily qualify for loans without public assistance? How do all the other restaurants in the area that will be competing with the new Bartolotta restaurant feel about having their competition subsidized by the City? If some other area restaurants (including those that have been in the community providing jobs and paying taxes for years) also want a low-interest long-term loans to compete with Bartolotta's, should they receive them?
Of course, there's only so much money to go around - and Bartolotta's has sucked half of it.
Don't get me wrong, I don't fault Bartolotta's for asking for the money. The question though is whether the City should be making a loan like this to a business that doesn't need the money so that business can come in and compete with other similar businesses that are already operating in the community?
Here's a novel idea. Instead of picking winners and losers, how about government reducing taxes across the board to give all businesses a chance to compete and succeed.
Even businesses that aren't part of a successful area restaurant group.