It is often the case that seemingly unconnected occurrences, when permitted to ferment in the subconscious for a period of time, coalesce to produce thematic unity. Unfortunately, for those of us choosing to reside in New Albany, these moments of lucidity tend to be the impetus for numbing depression and hurried solace within the closest available bottle.
Then again, perhaps I’m confusing my own Pavlovian reactions with those of the populace in general, but I can explain.
On Saturday afternoon, the trial run of a festival dubbed Worlds of Flavor Bar-B-Q and Music Festival commenced at New Albany’s Riverfront Amphitheater and four designated eateries downtown.
As all those involved with the festival, myself included, will openly acknowledge, Worlds of Flavor was inadequately marketed and poorly publicized; furthermore, like many inaugural events, the first time out of the gate is about learning new skills, synthesizing experiences and modifying presentations to improve the odds of success in coming years.
Make no mistake: Chief organizer Mike Kopp deserves substantial kudos for getting the ball rolling, and speaking only for myself, I’m perfectly willing to make a public pledge of more time personally expended and some of my company's money to expand and improve upon a good idea in 2008.
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained” is an axiom with supreme relevance in this instance, if for no other reason that an absence of like-minded chutzpah has been the prime contributing factor to New Albany’s enduring malaise. I’m supremely confident that we’ll do the Worlds of Flavor fest again, and we’ll do it better each time we try.
Setting aside the specific reason why I was standing atop the levee on a relatively seasonable August afternoon listening to a jazzy musical performance, consider for a moment the favorable impression made by the grandeur of the setting: Stage, band and sloping grass in front of me, barges and pleasure craft plying the waters of the Ohio just behind the stage , the city's signature Sherman Minton bridge humming with weekend traffic, and the Louisville skyline peaking demurely over the trees on the opposite shore.
Now think of the chicken and the egg, and tell me: Do we chronically underutilize this amphitheater because there is little demand, or is there a perception of little demand because we chronically underutilize this facility?
Later Saturday night, following aperitifs at Connor’s Place, a few of us adjourned to the courtyard at Bistro New Albany, enjoying a splendid meal and the temperate evening temperatures, and indulging in relaxed conversation. Then, on Sunday morning, I prepared a double espresso, fetched the Tribune from the front steps, dipped into a breakfast of cantaloupe and poached farm-fresh eggs (as acquired from Saturday’s farmers market, preparation courtesy of Mrs. Confidential) and turned straight to the opinion page for recent college graduate and guest columnist Daniel Robison’s latest submission, “Why New Albany is losing its young people”:
One recent visitor to the region remarked that New Albany is “historic.” Well, that's true: our city’s past has some nice highlights, but emphasizing this fact to define the city's identity is exactly symptomatic of the problem: our city is stuck, not in the past per se, but in its ways, attitudes and most importantly, opportunities.
In short, it was another in a series of provocative pieces by Daniel, a talented young New Albanian who’ll probably never live here, with his spot among the ranks of locals soon to be taken by yet another itinerant tenant of our city’s unregulated rental properties, which for decades have been the chief form of “economic development” pursued by our cluelessly caretaking political and governing classes.
While Daniel and his friends could not be expected to have memorized the lengthy list of excuses for failure that older New Albanians regularly cite when pressed to explain their own generation’s apathy, it is almost certain that if any one of Daniel’s coterie were handed the keys to the Riverfront Amphitheater’s restroom along with a brief checklist explaining the venue’s rules and regulations, he would immediately commence running the facility more efficiently than the current riverfront “director,” Bob Trinkle.
It is also certain that the entertainment and activities duly booked by the Young Turks would be precisely the sort that musically and culturally are veritable light years beyond Trinkle’s strictly stodgy and past-dated tastes – and that’s the best conceivable thing that could ever happen to the city’s amphitheater at this point in time.
Trinkle’s breathtakingly underachieving tenure has produced creative energy on a par with somnalent euchre tournaments at the Mark Elrod Towers, few tangible ideas beyond those gleaned from the manual for Baptist church socials, even fewer actual events, and nothing whatsoever to indicate any enthusiasm for substantive change or any abilities or willingness to implement it. Any remuneration to the current “director” totaling more than a buck fifty is far too high, although I suspect it is much more than that, and if so, it is a pay scale that by all rights should be the stuff of pure scandal.
Meanwhile, even in New Albany there are entrepreneurs of all generations who are willing and able to transform the amphitheater into a profitable, multi-cultural and diverse undertaking, one certainly capable of shifting income to the city rather than draining from it by being forced to subsist on a barely justifiable salary paid to one person who is completely out of touch with the demographic most sorely needed.
That'd be youth.
A better case for a public-private partnership is difficult to imagine; merely state the criteria, accept bids, award a contract, specify the percentage to be returned to the city, and permit private enterprise and a profit motive to inject life into a moribund and neglected area.
Recognizing that the terms for elected members of the current mayoral administration are running down, I therefore address this question, with all due sincerity, to City Hall hopefuls Doug England and Randy Hubbard:
Can you please – please – make a pledge of action with regard to New Albany’s Riverfront Amphitheater, arguably downtown’s single most neglected and mismanaged asset, and permit an injection of private enterprise that might reasonably be expected to dispel the do-nothing legacy of the current management?
After all, nothing ventured, nothing gained – and haven’t we all had enough of the latter?
Addendum: We’ve received an unverified report this morning that Bill Koehler, superintendent of the NA-FC Parks & Recreation Department, will submit (or has already submitted) his resignation. To repeat, this report is as yet unverified, but the source is reliable. If true, the supremely capable Koehler will be sorely missed.