What’s in a Name?

by Joe Fitzgerald

I have previously written much about the Bluestone Town Center from a logistical and political standpoint, much of which can be summed up by saying the people planning and approving the project do not understand logistics or politics. The planners and approvers show an understanding of and ability to manipulate governmental processes, which is a skill on the level of getting a stubborn toddler to give up a favorite toy if you could pick and choose your toddlers through low-turnout elections and rampant cronyism.

Today, however, I am writing about design, marketing, and labeling. First, some background.

The Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority (HRHA), has formed a partnership with EquityPlus (EP) to build Bluestone Town Center. That partnership is an LLC, a limited liability corporation, a legal entity designed to protect the owners of a project from responsibility. The entity is owned 51 percent by HRHA and 49 percent by EP. A wild guess about the split is that having a government entity as the (barely) majority owner adds the shield of sovereign immunity as well as the exemptions to government rules that government entities give to themselves.

The LLC is named Harrisonburg Owner LLC. Remember when I said I was writing about design, marketing, and labeling? From a standpoint of design, marketing, and labeling, the name “Harrisonburg Owner” is stupid.

Maybe that’s a harsh adjective for something that is merely quotidian, everyday, mundane, routine, or unremarkable – thanks, Roget – but from a standpoint of design, marketing, and labeling, it has less going for it than trying to advertise fast food based on its nutritional value. But that’s a lot of words, so I’m going to go with stupid. It has the corollary advantage of providing a baseline adjective for those objecting to the following speculation.

Maybe the entity building Bluestone Town Center was supposed to be named “Bluestone Town Center LLC.” It’s not outside the realm of possibility. Further, suppose that one line of the LLC paperwork said “name of LLC” while the line below it said “Location” and “owner or agent.” The person filling in the form then puts Harrisonburg and Owner on the wrong line, and they’re stuck with the name unless they want to re-file.

The scary part here is not that the person filling out the form had one job. It’s that the entities making up Harrisonburg Owner LLC only have one specialty. It’s not building. One of EP’s similar projects is a muddy field with a sagging fence in Hagerstown, and another is a project in Spartanburg that is months, maybe a year, behind schedule. HRHA has had two building projects bailed out by the city taxpayers. (Full disclosure, I voted for those bailouts.) The only specialty the two entities have is filling out forms, mostly federal paperwork dealing with HUD programs and tax credits.

So let’s speculate that having Bluestone Town Center in Harrisonburg be owned by Harrisonburg Owner LLC, was some kind of paperwork blunder. The alternative is that somebody thought the name was a good idea. I don’t know which is worse.

Joe Fitzgerald is a former mayor of Harrisonburg. This column is republished with permission from his blog, Still Not Sleeping.