Almost lost amid the accusatory fingerpointing and ejaculatory grandstanding that characterized Thursday night' city council meeting was the tabling of R-06-07 (to have been introduced by CM Jack Messer, who was absent): "Designating the Boundaries of a Riverfront Development Project Area in the City of New Albany."
Because the ordinance was tabled, economic development head Paul Wheatley was not permitted time to make the case for the project area, which if enacted would allow "downtown restaurants (to) purchase liquor licenses at will, exempt from state-imposed quotas, in a redevelopment-inspired proposal" (Tribune quote).
During public speaking time, two opinions were offered against the proposal.
The first viewpoint came from the chronically disaffected David Huckleberry, who conjured a dire, lawless picture very similar to the third panel of Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights": Fornication, vandalism, inebriation and wickedness would be sure to ensue if downtown were to be redeveloped in accordance with non-Puritanical principles of eating, drinking and being merry.
Huckleberry's trog karaoke was forgotten the moment it was uttered. CM Dan Coffey was seen yawning. Somewhere a dog barked.
Subsequently, a second and far superior argument was elucidated by Carl Holliday and Steve Goodman, owners of Third Century Services and operators of several key downtown businesses, including two bed and breakfasts, the Culbertson West events hall and the Parthenon.
Carl and Steve presented the view that relaxing the quota for new restaurant businesses would not be fair to the expense and effort incurred by existing three-way permit holders, who paid quota-driven market price for their paper on top of investments in property and buildings.
Briefly digressing, kindly note that the state of Indiana's alcohol licensing system is the real culprit in all this. By use of a quota system based on population, the state limits the number of permits, creating a whopping secondary market in which the price for a three-way can skyrocket to 30 times its original price -- with none of the added value going to the state.
It's insane, and it always has been, but logic means even less to the regulation of alcohol in Indiana than it does to the Gang of Four News Agency.
At any rate, as one who has never held a three-way, I now can see quite clearly that I was wrong in not grasping the implications of the quota exemption. Sorry about that.
My respect for Carl and Steve as human beings and businessmen is firm and deep, and accordingly, I fully recognize the validity of their argument that fairness demands a more detailed examination of the proposal.
Significantly, I did not hear them expressing opposition to the riverfront district itself, but they provided good reasons why it should come into being in a spirit of consensus, with safeguards in place to avoid abuses. As Mrs. Confidential correctly noted, what felt to them like a kick in the teeth could have been avoided by consultation beforehand. They, and others like them, should have been asked for their opinions and input.
A brief Internet search shows that when the city of West Lafayette was considering such a riverfront development measure, language was discussed that would augment the matter by requiring non-quota permit holders within the project area to demonstrate a minimum expenditure per square foot on building improvements. This, or something similar to it, is needed here.
I believe that Paul Wheatley is advancing the riverfront development proposal with the best of intentions, and I support anything that will help bring business downtown, as do Carl and Steve, but they're right: Existing operators need to be kept in the loop, and to participate in drafting an ordinance that results in greater unity, not more discord.
There's enough discord as it is.
Leapfrogging the three-way quota? First the City Council must authorize a Riverfront Development project.
A City Council meeting to be forgotten, but a strong performance by Mayor Garner -- even though the fix was in.