-- 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.
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