Thursday, December 05, 2013

ON THE AVENUES: Plans and hopes and screams.

ON THE AVENUES: Plans and hopes and screams.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

Everything has a past. Everything – a person, an object, a word, everything. If you don’t know the past, you can’t understand the present and plan properly for the future.
― Chaim Potok, Davita's Harp

With 2014 leering at us just around the corner, the city of New Albany is nearing the end of its bicentennial year celebration, the bulk of which was spent in a white bread haze, evading our past. The present is an exceedingly fragile renaissance, leaving us in the position of energetically planning for the future.

Depressing, isn’t it? While there’s nothing particularly ignoble about striking out on three pitches, couldn’t we at least manage a foul tip every now and then?

Earlier this week, I asked a slew of questions about city streets. Long experience has taught me the utter futility of expecting answers from anyone who actually matters, although there’s nothing to stop me from attending various meetings and poking a rhetorical stick through the bars, all the while questioning whether it’s me or them inside the cage.

Specifically, I asked:

If the city does not do for Elm, Spring and Market what it proposes to do on Main, how does the city explain to residents located on or near these other three streets why it is city policy to depress their property values owing to the greater good required of those transiting the city's streets to reach the other side?

As Groucho Marx never said, “Guess the secret word, and win an invitation to a Democratic Party fundraiser.” The word is “holistic,” and the best answer – the only answer – I’ve received so far comes from NAC’s own Jeff Gillenwater, as posted on Facebook, and since it undoubtedly is the correct reply, let’s take a look.

The City is well aware that what it's doing on Main will divert more auto traffic onto those other streets, Spring in particular.

That's why they're doing it first. That's why the oft expressed "need" for a traffic study does not include Main in its current form as a functioning part of the total grid. That's why the barely there, boilerplate "study" done to justify changes on Main contains no mention of connections to or projected impact on surrounding areas nor any other alternatives than the one they chose before doing the study.

From New Albany's earliest days, Main Street was and is supposed to be the highway, the through street, the primary connector of downtown to other places, but city planners don't want it to be that anymore.

Much like the sacrifice of Mount Tabor residential areas for poorly developed commercial strips on its fringes, the sacrifice of Spring and other nearby streets for Main has long been a part of the plan. And that's precisely why they don't/won't talk about it out loud. A part of any holistic answer, historically and currently, likely has to do with diverting auto traffic to Main, not away from it. That, however, doesn't fit the current gerrymandering scheme.

That's what I was afraid of.


Yesterday morning, I walked down to Quills for a quick coffee before hitting the road for a Brewers of Indiana Guild meeting in Indianapolis. A large dumpster could be seen situated by the southernmost extremity of the former New Albany Inn building on Bank and Market, where Habana Blues currently operates. Debris was falling from the third-floor window, providing evidence that renovations are underway in route to what we’re told will be upscale apartments.

Across Market from the New Albany Inn are several remodeled spaces in the old Fair Store, as well as the Bergman Building. Facing the New Albany Inn on the northeast corner of Market is the Odd Fellows building, currently with eclectic retail on the ground level, and a future that almost surely will involve upstairs housing of the sort under way nearby.

In short, it is no stretch to suggest that the value of these properties, both in terms of money and streetscape presence, rises as they are renovated and repurposed for retail and residency.

The fourth of four corners at the intersection of Bank and Market used to be a sizeable church – demolished during the Dullard Era, of course, which we neglected to discuss during the year-lonh bicentennial. It has long been a vacant lot save for parking spaces and the open-air Farmers Market structure.

Just a few weeks ago, I chanced to attend a Public Works meeting at which it was glowingly announced by CM Shirley Baird that roughly $300,000 had been surreptitiously extracted from the city council to complete a long-sought expansion of the Farmers Market. The city’s economic development director, David Duggins, was on hand to remind everyone that this money would be spent as quickly as possible.

But of course. Let’s put it this way: An expensive expansion of the Farmers Market goes full steam ahead on a piece of property owned by the city, one likely to increase in value, and with ideal resale potential for the sort of in-fill residential space now more possible than ever before, owing precisely to recent activity on three other adjacent corners.

Power move. It's like weathermen refusing to look out their windows.

Maybe soon a developer would up the ante and buy that dreadful suburban-style accountancy firm’s building yards away on Market, making it an even larger project, but if not, there’d be plenty of possibilities with the current Farmers Market space – and the market could be moved to a better-suited permanent location, perhaps by adaptive reuse of an existing building in need of an occupant.

As an example of what might be built on the corner, while in Broad Ripple yesterday I glanced over to a tiny plot once occupied by a liquor store and saw a shiny new mixed use building in the initial stages of construction; lots of modernist sleek and shiny glass, and quite attractive judging from the drawing on the sign.

What’s more, it was designed in compliance with the Envision Broad Ripple plan.

That’s right. A plan. For the future. You know, the sort of exercise that incorporates knowledge of the past and an understanding of the present.

Couldn’t we have one of those in New Albany?

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