Thursday, October 29, 2015

ON THE AVENUES: A year later, the backroom politics of pure spite at Haughey’s Tavern still reek.

ON THE AVENUES: A year later, the backroom politics of pure spite at Haughey’s Tavern still reek.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

In September of 2014, the city of New Albany demolished the historic Haughey’s Tavern building at 922 Culbertson Avenue. There'll be more explanatory links at the conclusion, but for now, here's an overview from the archives.

Oct 2, 2014: ON THE AVENUES: Now on tap at the ghost of Haughey’s Place: The politics of pure spite.

The vacant space subsequently was folded into pre-existing and thoroughly secretive plans for erecting six New Directions houses, which have since been completed, and form one of Jeff Gahan’s re-election platform planks – this being a prime reason the potted events occurred in the first place.

Four of the new houses are in a row across Culbertson from the ghost of Haughey’s, and two occupy the tavern’s decimated footprint.

Let’s try not to forget the central point, one consistently obscured by Team Gahan’s relentless, PAC-financed and self-serving propaganda machine: Haughey’s Tavern might have been saved and rehabilitated into the sort of street corner anchor that these two new houses are utterly incapable of being, now or ever.

After all, Haughey’s did it for more than 125 years, with various occupants surviving floods, tornadoes, ice storms and changing times ... until Gahan's suburban-over-urban logic came along.


There are numerous vacant spaces nearby where houses might yet be built, and in fact, since this disgraceful act unfolded behind closed door last year, the city has yet to present a coherent plan for affordable infill housing – at 922 Culbertson, or anywhere else.

This shameful absence only continues to be accentuated by the shameless non-public process prefacing the unnecessary Haughey’s demolition.

Just as there is much to be learned by any human society’s treatment of its most challenged members, we can derive insight as to the behavioral patterns of the Gahan administration in recalling this story, which is not for the faint of heart.

The narrative that follows is based on several composite sources. Some people directly involved spoke to me about the experience, but given the mayor’s vengeful tendencies, they would not do so for attribution. If anyone mentioned herein objects to my characterization, I'll retract it, though I think it's accurate. Maybe some day we'll have investigative journalism hereabouts.

Conversely, when I filed a formal “freedom of information” request with municipal "corporate attorney" Shane Gibson for e-mails, these were promptly provided … and not a single one of them involved the mayor.

That’s right. Not even one.

Do you believe Jeff Gahan did not send a single e-mail pertaining to this issue during the time period requested?

My guess is that he did, but did not use his official city e-mail account, and instead wrote for attribution via a private e-mail address – one at a server lying conveniently outside the realm of public record requests like the one I made.

If you believe that Gahan did not utter a single electronic communication about the Haughey’s debacle, then I have an Ohio River Bridge for purchase.

On layaway.

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During the run-up to the demolition, the city of New Albany never openly listed the Haughey’s building in any coherent manner that might have enticed developers to inquire. It was not marketed, and there was no effort to arrive at independent verification of the building’s structural condition.

Nevertheless, local developer Steve Resch examined the building and made an offer. He never believed the “dilapidated” party line espoused by City Hall’s minions (David Brewer and David Duggins prominent among them), and thought the building was salvageable.

Resch apparently thought he had a deal, to include the city and Indiana Landmarks combining resources with him in an amount previously discussed even before his offer was made, as intended to make possible a complete stabilization and exterior repair.

After that, Resch would wait for a tenant, and then finish the interior to spec on his own dime. His estimate of the total cost of rehabilitation was one-half to one-third less than that suggested by the minions – who never once explained their numbers publicly.

No sooner than Resch thought it was done deal, the rug was pulled out from beneath him. The only transparent, clear and publicly apparent instigator at the time was 1st district councilman Dan Coffey – in whose district the address is NOT located – who subbed for the AWOL 3rd district councilman Greg Phipps and constantly insisted to all and sundry that the building must come down.

Why?

Two sources told me that with county elections coming in November, 2014, and with Coffey mounting an ill-fated campaign for commissioner, he’d concocted a campaign financing deal with CCE/Eastridge, a deal that depended on the Haughey’s Tavern demolition to funnel the appropriate percentage toward Coffey’s campaign.

Coffey didn’t even get 40% of the vote – and a building that cannot be replaced subsequently disappeared.

It’s worth noting that during Doug England’s final term, CCE/Eastridge constantly was on the hot seat, prompting numerous neighborhood complaints about its toxic (literally) operations where Silver Street Park eventually was built with TIF bonds after the city bought the property for a princely sum.

Yes, from CCE/Eastridge.

Nowadays CCE/Eastridge is the beneficiary of prime governmental largess, including numerous demolition contracts, many of which emanate from The Redevelopment Commission, upon which both Coffey and Adam Dickey (the Democratic Party chairman and a vocal proponent of serial historic property demolition) are seated.

Coincidence or conflict of interest?

Always.

There was a lonely voice on Redevelopment advocating for sense and sensibility, but as usual, John Gonder was ignored.

One probable reason for CCE/Eastridge’s newfound preferential treatment has less to do with Coffey and more to its ownership of ground by the river needed by the city to complete the 8th-through-18th stretch of the Ohio River Greenway.

That’s right: A project that goes straight through the Redevelopment Commission.

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At some point during the spring or early summer of 2014, local Landmarks head Greg Sekula spotted the down-low demolition order, and called Gahan seeking an intervention.

Evidently Gahan initially indicated he was receptive, then began badgering Sekula into asking instead for a Horseshoe Foundation grant. This Sekula did, but when the Horseshoe meeting took place, Gahan sat impassively, refusing to motion, afterward remarking to Sekula that it didn’t matter.

According to Gahan, the board he so regularly maligns wouldn’t consider it, anyway, so why bother? We can surmise that the deal already was done at this point, but Ceausescu -- oops, Gahan -- wasn’t finished yet.


Following the Horseshoe fiasco, Gahan complained about Sekula to the head office of Landmarks, and in essence, tried to get him disciplined or fired. This did not occur, primarily because Sekula had done nothing untoward apart from trying to do his job, as opposed to appeasing Gahan's ego.

These phone calls jibe with stories told by other informants, who point to Gahan’s fundamental and recurring vindictiveness, and his zeal in this instance to show preservationists like Sekula exactly who’s the boss in this town.

Previously I sent e-mails to New Directions asking when the infill plan we see now was originally minted. The chronology matters, but New Directions never answered these e-mails.

At the time, there were regular rumors to the effect that Habitat for Humanity had a deal in place prior to the Haughey’s demolition, which Habitat dismissed – but the rumors themselves suggest the existence of some sort of pre-arranged outcome, even as the other subplots dropped into place.

No sooner than Haughey's came down than Gahan announced the partnership with New Directions to construct his platform planks.


From top to bottom, the fate of Haughey’s smells of an arrogant absence of due process, even a year later. The suburban niceness of the houses standing there now jars with ironic dissonance as one learns how they came into being, because ends do not justify means, and transparent processes really do matter.

Unfortunately, an arrogant usurpation of due process is the way Gahan rolls. For more, read this five-part series from August of 2014.

Let’s not let an atrocity like this happen again.

"Tear It Down," Sayeth the Councilman, Part 1: The rudderless newspaper squanders another 922 Culbertson opportunity, but an informative chat occurs, anyway.

"Tear It Down," Sayeth the Councilman, Part 2: "Just how has this been a corrupt process?" Hint: Secretive nonsense.

"Tear It Down," Sayeth the Councilman, Part 3: A civilian's due diligence as to 922 Culbertson's possibilities.

"Tear It Down," Sayeth the Councilman, Part 4: "I say do the work for which you're being paid."

"Tear It Down," Sayeth the Councilman, Part 5: The ghost of Orwell enjoys a pint at Haughey's Place.

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Recent columns:

October 28: ON THE AVENUES REWOUND: How many businesses already have died because of City Hall’s street grid procrastination?

October 26: ON THE AVENUES EXTRA: Gahan says speeding sucks, but street safety can wait until after he is re-elected.

October 22: ON THE AVENUES: My career as a double naught capitalist.

October 19: ON THE AVENUES REWOUND: Courtesy bicycle to the Hotel Silly (2010, 2013).

October 15: ON THE AVENUES: To the New Albanians, each and every one.

October 8: ON THE AVENUES: There’s an indie twist to this curmudgeon’s annual Harvest Homecoming column.

October 1: ON THE AVENUES: No more fear, Jeff.

September 24: ON THE AVENUES: Almost two years later, Mr. Gahan has yet to plug in this clock, and so it's time for him to clock out.

September 17: ON THE AVENUES: Dear Neighbor: If you’re tired of the same old story, turn some pages.

September 10: ON THE AVENUES: Lanesville Heritage Weekend comes around again.

September 3: ON THE AVENUES: When even Mitt Romney can run to the left of New Albany’s Democrats, it's a very big problem.

2 comments:

w&la said...

Let's not forget the antique bar, the wood trim and all of the other historic fabric of the building stolen before it was destroyed and hit the landfill? Who ended up with the antique wooden back bar and the other treasures taken from the building anyway?

The building wasn't marketed to the public who paid for the demolition, wasn't advertised to the public who paid for the demolition - just abruptly taken away by someone who's a "friend" of the administration that decided what stays and what's destroyed in New Albany.

Somebody's sitting in their basement looking at the bar right now - something worth saving (stealing) while the building was knocked down, telling everyone the building was "worthless" and "not worth saving"… "we've got to tear it down right now."

Rebecca Heishman said...

I fight tears every time I drive past there now. You don't have to be an engineering genius to know that that magnificent and historic landmark was salvageable. When the chatter began about its fate, I knew how it would end. I always knew it would be destroyed because the conversations were rushed, the decision was hurried. Plans for those lots were already in the works. I knew that new real estate would pop up there before the dust of the demolition had settled. That old building was such an important part of an old New Albany neighborhood. It's sad that nobody realized its worth. When you kill a city's historical neighborhoods, you cut away a part of it that can never be replaced.