Monday, June 23, 2014

Gonder on the impending 922 Culbertson demolition: "This is a shame, and it didn't, and still doesn't, have to happen."

"Huh, I must have missed all the many announcements and advertisements letting as many people as possible know the building is available as part of the City's earnest effort to save it."
-- Bluegill, upon learning of the demolition

Because councilman John Gonder's blog entry about the fate of 922 Culbertson deserves the widest possible audience, I've decided to do something I seldom do: Reprint here in its entirety.


Boxing Day

As Daniel Suddeath reported in the June 20*, News and Tribune, the building at 922 Culbertson is in the sights of the demolition crew. This is a shame, and it didn't, and still doesn't, have to happen.

The worn-out phrase from some distant management guru applies in this case, it is the requirement to think outside the box.

Inside the box, we see inadequate code-enforcement leading to the deterioration of the structure, which set it on its present perilous course. Many building in New Albany are in sorry shape. Are all these blighters the result of blind eyes in the past? If so, good, we can place blame with people who came before us, and what good does that do anyone?

Are the members of preservation groups strident in defense of the city's historic buildings and neighborhoods; do these groups, or individuals within these groups, rub bureaucrats and policy makers the wrong way? Probably, and so what? Is the Horseshoe Foundation derelict in its mission, not abiding by its bylaws which call on the Foundation to support historic preservation? A lot of people think so.

I've heard that in place of the old tavern will be several newly-designed versions of Habitat for Humanity houses. This laudable group does good and meaningful work, and is worthy of support, however, the houses they have designed for New Albany leave much to be desired. The placement and design of the houses does nothing to help the city escape the branding of certain parts of town as underprivileged, less desirable neighborhoods, and, therefore does not break the cycle of exclusion and poverty for the residents of those neighborhoods. Inside the Culbertson Avenue box, if the Habitat solution is chosen, we seem intent on making sure that this depressed neighborhood stays depressed and looks the part.

Does New Albany have money to fund the preservation and reuse of the building at 922 Culbertson? Not if you listen to the noise within the box.

Outside the box, there's plenty of money to salvage this building and help this neighborhood, as Suddeath reported June 19*. The sewer bond restructuring will pipe over a million dollars into City coffers. The rehabilitation of the building at 922 Culbertson has been estimated at between $150,000-300,000. Since the available funds to save this building would come from this rewrite of the bonds, perhaps it is fitting that the Sewerage Department share in the benefits of its salvation. Since the City's exhaustive search for willing parties to take on the rejuvenation process of the building has produced no results, why not use some of the savings from the sewer bonds, to invest in a first class renovation of the property and move the Sewer Billing offices there?

The structure is large enough to allow for the operations of that office to be housed on the main floor, with additional space on the upper floor for private offices for sewer employees or a field office for code enforcement, a police substation, or many other public uses. Even with the sewer offices there, the large main room of the tavern would be an ideal setting for a neighborhood Assembly Room, where from time to time governmental meetings could be held, including some City Council meetings. This would be an opportunity to deliver government services to the place where people live.

If the City's use of the property has the effect I believe it would, adding stability and vitality to that neighborhood, it need not be a permanent part of the neighborhood. The City's tenancy could be ended any time and the structure could be sold to private users. But, those private users would be buying into a part of town that has been greatly improved, and more inviting of private investment.

Inside the box rests a wrecking ball. Outside the box lies an open-ended list of possibilities.

One choice requires no imagination, and returns very little to the citizens of that neighborhood, or the city at large.

The other choice requires a hopeful vision for the city and all of its neighborhoods, a commitment to work toward an environmentally sustainable future, a city of walkable, safe, prosperous and interesting neighborhoods. What's the point of walkable neighborhoods, if you have no place to walk to?

Such neighborhoods can help New Albany rebuild, and bring vitality back to the city, as young people starting new families are given what many of their contemporaries are currently seeking in the older neighborhoods of Louisville, such as Germantown and the Highlands. It is not an overnight fix. It is, rather, a long slow process, and one which is immensely helped with a focal point such as the 922 building. If we don't seize some opportunity with this building, it will be a mistake. Will it be a mistake fatal to New Albany's future? Of course not. But it will be a mistake which we didn't need to make if we just looked outside the box.The lid's open. All we need to do is step out.

*June 20, 2014--News and Tribune, Old New Albany tavern to be torn down
*June 19, 2014--News and Tribune, New Albany City Council acts to restructure sewer bonds


Iamhoosier said...

As I have stated on another social media site, John's funding source is anything but "out of the box". Raiding the sewer department is an old school terrible idea.

John Gonder said...

Iamhoosier: The raid of the sewer dept., as you call, is not the intention of my proposal.
The sewer billing department currently pays no rent for its space in the City County Building. Is that a raid on other departments of government?
It would seem reasonable to let the Sewer Billing department pay for space in a newly renovated structure which delivers services to people within neighborhoods, while also saving a significant piece of a neighborhood on the bubble.
The other potential users of this structure, such as a police substation, could pay to use the facility to avoid unjust enhancement of their budgets at the hands of the sewer's rate payers.
I understand where the reluctance to use any funds which originate in the sewer bills comes from, but the only uses for these savings, such a restictive view would allow, are for debt retirement, rate reductions, or physical repairs within the sewer system. New Albany needs more help than that. And I believe a mechanism to avoid the raid you envision can be fashioned fairly easily. My point in linking the salvation of this building to the sewer savings was mainly to illustrate that poor mouthing will not work in this case. The administration has shown adroitness in bringing financing options to the fore when the plan meets its priorities. I simply think this situation calls for an examination of priorities.

Iamhoosier said...
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Iamhoosier said...

As I have also stated elsewhere, some of your ideas in this matter are noble. Your way to pay for it is anything but "out of the box" thinking. Your words, not mine. And you are still defending it.

Every official in the past has had a "perfectly good" reason to raid the sewer department. Paving or whatever.

Just a few years ago, many of us were complaining about EDIT going to the sewers to keep rates artificially lower. Our argument was that the sewers needed to stand on it's own. I would respectfully submit that the reverse is also true.

How is it fair to charge sewer users more than necessary for the proper operation of the sewers? That's exactly what you are proposing. Sewer charges are just that--charges. Or that's what they should be.

Iamhoosier said...

I'm also glad to know that you think debt retirement, physical repairs, and RATE REDUCTION are just too restrictive.


Iamhoosier said...

Sorry, work gets in the way.

As for the sewer billing department not paying rent in the city county building, yep that's a subsidy and they should pay rent. It's called proper accounting and NA has had way too little of that.

You should realize this. You have been on the council when there wasn't enough money to pay for a box of staples because of the past shenanigans.

Jeff Gillenwater said...

If it's assumed that city offices will be leaving Hauss Square (and it should be), then making use of preexisting buildings in a way that enhances other aspects of the city makes sense, whether we're talking about the sewer department or any other.

Jeff Gillenwater said...

No one is talking about raiding sewer department coffers. Rather, the sewer department has to pay for space somewhere. It may as well spend that money in a way that provides additional benefits in order to get more bang for those bucks.

Iamhoosier said...

Since we are assuming, I agree it makes sense to use existing buildings. Spreading different city offices out around town does not.

I'm still not convinced on the raiding. I think the idea of moving the sewer office there is the proverbial lipstick on the pig.

THERE'S "FREE" MONEY IN THE SEWER DEPARTMENT!!! Step up to the trough, boys.

Iamhoosier said...

This sound very similar to another situation with another office downtown. Everyone was after that money and the man eventually lost his job for resisting.

Jeff Gillenwater said...

Not at all the same thing, Mark. Your characterization is both inaccurate and unfair.

Iamhoosier said...
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Iamhoosier said...

Fair enough, Jeff. My knowledge of the other situation is probably too lean for me to be making a fair comparison. I withdraw my 5:27 post.

The Bookseller said...

I appreciate Mark's absolutist position and understand why he's making it. But "our" position was never of a nature that would oppose John Gonder's proposal. I think Mark could be persuaded. I like John's proposal in its outline, theme, and particulars. I have no confidence the Gahan administration can even comprehend it, so it's probably a "mute" point ;)

Jeff Gillenwater said...

Agreed. I think we're seeing some false equivalencies here.

To frame this as "raiding sewer coffers" just isn't accurate. John is suggesting that the sewer department needs offices, for which we all seem to agree they should pay. As is, the status quo woukd suggest paying the county a hefty annual sum for space at Hauss Square or similar. On its own, that's not finacially smart and doesn't do anything for the City as a whole other than to guarantee ongoing, hefty payments.

John's option means the sewer department would rehab a building TO USE FOR THEIR OWN PURPOSES. Let's say they do that for $150,000, as was quoted. After several years, they will have "broken even" in terms of what they would have paid in rent but won't ever have to pay rent again.

They would also have the option of leasing out any unused space to other offices, creating an income stream they don't have now. It makes sense even without the preservation component.

That the sewer department could save themselves money in the long run while simultaneously helping stabilize/redevelop a city neighborhood is a double good. That's true of just about any city department, a conversation we've had many times before.

Iamhoosier said...

I want to ask a question about the rent in the city county building.

Are "you"(anyone)saying that the billing department contributes no dollars to the city/county building?

The Bookseller said...

Before writing it, John Gonder verified that no rental dollars are in the sewer budget and thus, their occupancy is free. Not sure if that's what you're asking, Mark, but they neither pay the Building Authority nor the city for occupying space comparable to that of the mayor's office.

The New Albanian said...

FYI: My house, currently under the aegis of the 1117 E Spring St Neighborhood Association, will be available for use as a mayoral office, circa January, 2016.

Iamhoosier said...

Thanks, Randy.

So, the sewer department should be the city something since the city is paying the building authority. Of course, this would then lessen what the city pays. Proper accounting.

I guess my question is then, where does this "high rent" to the county come into play? Has there been talk of the authority throwing the sewer department into the street?

Again, I fully recognize that John is trying to do good. Just don't think this has been thought completely through.

Absolutist? From the man who nicknamed me "On the other Hand"? VBG