Friday, March 17, 2006

NAC swings and misses on the topic of the proposed Riverfront Development Project Area -- a good idea that needs more work.

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.


ceece said...

so basically hucks thinking is that New Albany would turn into a lawless place for riff-raff to come and not follow any rules?

Damn, I thought that's what was going on now.

I was wondering who was going to be the first one to play the "what about the children" card.

And that is such a lame arguement what about Hugh E's and the Hitchin' Post?


Iamhoosier said...

I think that you may have broken the "blog law". I did not think that people could admit that they may be wrong and/or missed something. Oh wait, that is another blog.

As Gilda Radner said, "Never mind".

Brett.Scharlow said...

Our downtown Furniture stores have flourished because people can park and comparison shop three or more stores without driving all over Kentuckiana. Businesses all over the country collocate for the same reasons:
1.Increased traffic- in a Business District this is a GOOD THING
2.Increased investment- with more opportunities for business, entrepreneurs are sure to follow. Just a few positives would be: Infrastructure improvements, increased building values, increased tax base.
3.Increased businesses- Competition may require current businesses to provide better services, which is a major attribute of an open market. Not all downtown businesses are scared of a little competition.
So, a few early investors may initially feel a slight loss, but it will come back to them thru financial increases in other areas. Fighting change in NA is the norm, look where it has gotten us. With additional opportunities for smart growth we all will reap the benefits. Pass the damn Riverfront Development Project and quit allowing excuses and scare tactics to stunt growth.

Brandon W. Smith said...

I appreciate what Carl and Steve have done, but I side with Brett. The long term benefits outweigh the inconvenience to the pioneers (who might own a private club, but do not, to my knowledge, have an upscale restaurant downtown serving liquor...the presence of which would actually increase the appeal of staying in a B&B on mainstreet).

Now, if I'm understanding what is proposed, requiring minimum expenditure per square foot could encourage historic rennovations and bring in ventures with enough capital to "do things right." But, given the dearth of activity right now, I think we should be LOWERING barriers of entry, not raising them.

All4Word said...

Slow down. This is how government works. It is designed to move with some degree of consideration and deliberation.

I understand Steve and Carl are not particularly close to the mayor's office, so it would be unlikely they would be consulted in advance of the public. Although the enabling legislation has been in place for awhile, no one has rushed this. It was announced in the paper and presented for consideration by the city council. The public was, and will again be invited to participate in the process, presumably adding nuance and rationality to the process. A public hearing will certainly be part of the process.

The equities are less tilted than you might imagine. Steve and Carl hold an asset that continues to be of value. Their license can be transferred (sold) for $30,000 to someone with a premises outside the proposed district, and their establishments can obtain a new license under the ordinance.

So to say they and others already in place are being punished is not correct. They still hold a rather valuable license.

I understand they did make good points about how an extremely low barrier to entry could undermine the chances of truly viable eateries and pubs coming into being. Perhaps so. But a vital city core will always have winners and losers. We just need to encourage those who make the necessary investment.

Let's not let this become another tool for obstruction. Existing businesses can thrive without financial penalty. It just takes a little imagination.

The New Albanian said...

Brett and Brandon -- yes.

What I missed was the importance of engaging those current permit holders so that the points you've raised might be discussed and their concerns with regard to the development area heard before the story appears in the newspaper.

I suspect that Paul is learning a few lessons in diplomacy from all this. I don't envy his job under such circumstances. Then again, we're all learning, aren't we?

He also might have mistakenly trusted in the assurances of a few CMs that support would be forthcoming.

Last night was a misstep; geez, unity is an elusive concept here in New Albany, but we simply have to find some.

All4Word said...

I don't think your being fair. There is no "bum's rush" going on. Legislation is proposed and discussed in the sunshine.

It's not undiplomatic to go to the newspapers and announce an initiative that the mayor has discussed in public for over a year. It does require council action to create the district, so the economic development director drafts an ordinance.

Tell me if I'm wrong, but has there been any sense that anyone is trying to rush this through?

And with this council, just imagine how long they could hold up such an ordinance, even when an overwhelming majority of residents favor it (see: Scribner Place).

Don't get me wrong - consultation is good, but the fact that some weren't aware of the possibility doesn't make it a secret.

We continue to draw attention to public affairs, believing that it is important. We believe that if the voters actually pay attention, they will see who has the good of the city as a priority.

Many have been talking about rental inspection. That talk will continue, and I believe supporters of such an ordinance should seek to enlist the wisdom of, at least, the "good" landlords. That will produce a consensus and perhaps ease the way for legislation.

Granted, a first reading (aborted) is a lot closer to complete legislation than a blog entry, but that is how an ordinance is introduced. You read it, and if questions remain, you move it to a committee for review and amendment. You don't "table" it.

In practice with this council, tabling a motion is holding it hostage to the will of the council member assigned to present the ordinance. As for me and my house, we don't trust Bill Schmidt to even remember what the topic under discussion is. I sure don't trust him to study the matter with any kind of precision.

Put it into committee and set a date for a committee report.

All4Word said...

I don't think you're being fair...

maury k goldberg said...

Roger, I am posting on my old blog site and not the new one.