Serving as mayor of Salt Lake County from 2013 to 2019, Ben McAdams confronted a well-known dilemma. He knew what residents wanted and felt duty-bound to offer it. However the funds he had weren’t equal to his ambition.

“I used to be all the time shocked at how exhausting it was to seek out income to put money into issues that have been empirically substantiated to be necessary to our neighborhood,” says McAdams. “One in all my passions was early childhood schooling — we had price range of $1.3 billion a yr, but we could not discover $500,000 to put money into an early childhood schooling program.”

McAdams found a method ahead after assembly Swedish funding adviser Dag Detter and studying his e-book, The Public Wealth of Cities. It has been the norm for governments to vastly undervalue public belongings, Detter says; furthermore, not like the non-public sector, they fail to handle them in ways in which unlock their potential to serve the general public good.

As a primary take a look at of those ideas, McAdams commissioned a list of government-owned actual property in Salt Lake County. The county then projected the worth of those belongings in the event that they have been utilized in the identical methods as privately owned properties inside 500 toes of presidency actual property.

The comparability yielded a “conservative” estimate that the worth of the county’s holdings was $45 billion, a determine nearly 45 instances the county’s annual price range. “Whether or not that’s the precise quantity or not, there’s actual worth there,” McAdams says. “When you put a 3rd of these belongings right into a mechanism yielding a 3 p.c return, you’d have a brand new income supply of roughly $450 million a yr, greater than we have been producing from property tax.” (This is not theoretical — a single long-term lease of a city-owned parcel that was achieved primarily based on the work McAdams started is bringing in $500,000 a yr.)

Public wealth is twice GDP, Detter says, and he advocates inserting public belongings in “City Wealth Funds” (UWF) managed by entities which might be clear and unbiased of presidency affect, charged with maximizing their worth. Although no U.S. metropolis has but established a UWF, they’ve had important affect in cities in Europe and Asia.

McAdams left his job in Salt Lake County in 2019 to serve within the U.S. Home of Representatives. Now he’s again in Utah as a senior fellow on the College of Utah’s Sorenson Impression Heart. From this place, he’s main an effort to assist native governments all through the nation stock and leverage underutilized public belongings.


A visualization from the geoanalytic agency Urban3 reveals county-owned property close to Salt Lake County’s transit system that, if developed, may improve the worth of those publicly-owned belongings by $13.5 billion.


Making a Blueprint

In June, the Sorenson Heart introduced that six jurisdictions had been chosen because the inaugural cohort for a Placing Belongings to Work (PAW) Incubator. The PAW is a collaboration between the middle, the Authorities Finance Officers Affiliation (GFOA) and geoanalytics agency Urban3.

It’s an outgrowth of GFOA’s Rethinking Income mission, a research-based effort to spotlight improvements that may assist native governments construct income methods that stay in sync with altering financial, political and demographic realities.

One purpose for the incubator is to construct curiosity in UWFs, says Shayne Kavanagh, senior analysis supervisor for GFOA, and transfer them from “boutique” or “outlier” standing into the mainstream of discussions about income. “Since they’re new, we wish to uncover the toughest components of them, what the options to these components are, and to find areas of danger and de-risk,” he says.

The incubator course of begins with a list of belongings owned by every of the collaborating jurisdictions. These are being performed by Urban3, which helped McAdams in Salt Lake County and has labored with Detter for plenty of years.

Cate Ryba, chief working officer for Urban3, is educated as an city planner and has labored in metropolis authorities, together with six years on town council in Spartanburg, S.C. She has first-hand information of the truth that many governments are short-staffed, and on daily basis public service comes first. “Taking time to catalog belongings and strategically take into consideration them in service of making ongoing income streams for the communities, is deep and massive work,” she says.

Urban3 kinds by means of public data to compile inventories of properties, assesses their worth primarily based on metrics that mirror their potential to be developed, and makes use of GIS instruments to create maps and visualizations that symbolize their findings.

“Essentially the most thrilling factor about this work is that cities, cities and counties which might be struggling financially have a gold mine at their fingertips that might assist them obtain their public coverage targets,” Ryba says. “We take information that reveals this and switch it right into a digestible story.”

104 Trinity Rendering.jpg

A rendering of a 228-unit mission in Atlanta that features 200 inexpensive housing models and floor flooring retail. It would come to life on a city-owned property throughout the road from Metropolis Corridor that had been unutilized for many years.

(Metropolis of Atlanta)

An Existential Downside

Atlanta, Ga., is without doubt one of the six jurisdictions chosen to take part within the incubator. It had already accomplished an evaluation of its belongings earlier than it was chosen, says Joshua Humphries, director of town’s Workplace of Housing and Group Improvement.

“We have got a rising inexpensive housing disaster right here and are each attainable software that we may leverage to construct extra inexpensive housing,” says Humphries.

Town misplaced residents within the many years between 1970 and 2010 on account of white flight and suburbanization. Land owned by town or different public businesses was regarded as a nuisance or aggravation.

By the 2020 census, Atlanta’s inhabitants was better than in 1970; it’s now the best within the metropolis’s historical past and persevering with to pattern upward. “We’re having to take a look at issues in another way and switch over stones that we by no means even thought of turning over earlier than to unravel the existential downside we’re dealing with,” Humphries says.

Drawing on its improved understanding of the situation of underutilized belongings and their worth, town is targeted on creating inexpensive housing on floor parking tons and vacant lands close to transit stations. It acquired a downtown workplace tower on prime of the principle heavy railway hub station that it’s working to turn into residential housing.

Constructing density close to transit can scale back the price of housing, improve transit ridership, and stimulate improvement of companies and colleges to serve residents. “We wish to put housing in locations which might be conducive to, or have already got, facilities that individuals who stay in inexpensive housing can entry,” says Humphries.

A grassy hill throughout the road from Atlanta’s Metropolis Corridor that had been empty for many years would be the web site of a 228-unit mission that features 200 inexpensive housing models and ground-floor retail.

“What I actually like in regards to the incubator and dealing with Ben McAdams is that we’re our land and our instruments in another way, in a method that I am actually optimistic will make town a way more inexpensive and accessible place for residents,” says Humphries.


Photo voltaic panels on Lancaster, California’s municipal stadium. A 1.45 megawatt mission involving 5 metropolis amenities is anticipated to save lots of town an estimated $6 million over 15 years.

(Metropolis of Lancaster)

Rooftop Income

Town of Lancaster, Calif., got here to the incubator with a historical past of leveraging public belongings. Work that started with putting in photo voltaic panels on metropolis buildings and faculty property and a dedication to changing into the nation’s first net-zero metropolis set the stage for a sequence of groundbreaking private and non-private collaborations.

Finally, town grew to become a renewable vitality provider for its residents utilizing current transmission traces, drawing on electrical energy from its personal era in addition to different close by photo voltaic and wind sources. It then partnered with close by jurisdictions to deliver clear vitality to different cities within the area. Somewhat than being an expense, electrical energy now offers a few fifth of town’s price range.

Earlier than its involvement with the incubator, Lancaster had labored with Urban3 to investigate the prices and revenues related to its highway system. Lancaster’s improvement has historically adopted an city sprawl sample, says Sydney Yeseta, town’s assistant supervisor for financial improvement.

A give attention to infill inside the metropolis’s core and higher-density developments may present extra worth. Town’s photo voltaic efforts present a willingness to take dangers, however higher understanding of the worth of its belongings is necessary to leveraging them to their highest potential, Yeseta says.

“We’re nonetheless attempting to determine how it is going to be structured and what it can appear to be, however we totally intend to create one thing like a UWF. We hope to come back out of the incubator with a path ahead that’s useful and profitable for Lancaster.”


Singapore skyline. An City Wealth Fund performed a necessary function within the nation’s transition from a creating to developed financial system inside a era and allows it to offer public housing to 85 p.c of its inhabitants.

(Weerasak Saeku/Shutterstock)

Stability Sheets, Not Taxes

The U.S. is usually a troublesome marketplace for city wealth funds, says Dag Detter. Apart from political boundaries, public asset possession is extra fragmented within the U.S. than in different components of the world the place UWFs have been profitable.

“I feel what is commonly misunderstood is the dimensions that that you must do that on,” he says. “When you actually wish to have success it’s a must to have a large portfolio with some cash-generative belongings and a few that want money.”

Fragmented possession creates potential for vested pursuits to intrude with creating belongings for the general public good. Actual property is fluid; buildings can final 100 years or extra in some instances, and in the event that they aren’t tailored to satisfy altering wants, cash and capital could be wasted.

“It’s far more productive to drag all the actual property collectively in a single holding firm after which have a look at what town actually wants,” Detter says. “You construct, you develop belongings into no matter it’s that you just want, and you’ve got a marketing strategy for this.”

Constructing a UWF on the county stage is one solution to facilitate the pooling of belongings between entities together with cities, colleges, particular districts and public utilities. It affords a kind of “again door” to financial efficiencies that might come from a metropolis/county merger with out necessitating a political course of.

When authorities operations are funded by taxes, it’s inevitable that those that run for workplace will promise greater than shall be attainable by means of tax revenues. That results in borrowing, which suggests future tax.

Placing public wealth in a holding firm may give authorities workers an opportunity to create wealth that may be transferred to future generations, says Detter. “When you’ve gotten a wealth fund, you’ve gotten a steadiness sheet and you may see in case you are rising wealth for the subsequent era or not.”

Shifting Views

Because it explores new approaches to native authorities income, GFOA can also be serving to with budgeting analysis and the potential to suppose past yearly cycles. The “subsequent era”

Ben McAdams.jpg

Ben McAdams: “Performed accurately, this work can entice many multiples of personal investments that may additionally raise communities.”


perspective Detter describes may very well be an necessary a part of this evolution and open the door to long-term investments to handle challenges that require long-term consideration, whether or not local weather change, housing or schooling.

“Performed accurately, this work can entice many multiples of personal investments that may additionally raise communities,” says McAdams. “That’s going to must be structured accurately and punctiliously to verify the offers are structured in individuals’s mutual benefit — not one which leaves authorities behind, which is simply too usually the case.”

Joint efforts by “networks” of public-sector entities that pool belongings in a UWF to maximise wealth-generating potential may very well be a step towards recognition of different methods to share capability and improve effectivity, or encourage governments to include different methods that make them extra entrepreneurial and adaptable.

“Communities all around the nation are struggling to steadiness their budgets and to offer a excessive stage of service to their taxpayers,” says Cate Ryba, “It’s mind-blowing to think about that there’s this untapped useful resource actually sitting in entrance of them, however invisible in a method.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *