Sunday, May 27, 2018
Reisz, City Hall, and the only truthful argument: As historic preservationists, we must save this building at any cost, and limitless costs are what government is all about -- so we must act now.
The conversion of the (a) dilapidated, (b) neglected, and (c) poorly maintained Reisz Furniture Building into a new City Hall seems to be inevitable. The deals have been cut, and the votes secured.
This "move to protect our history" will come to fruition at a total cost of at least $8.5 million to the city, and it's also highly likely that during one of many backroom deals leading to this juncture, $390,000 was passed by the city to Denton Floyd to buy the structure from Schmitt Furniture -- which City Hall itself admits is responsible for the dilapidation, neglect and poor maintenance.
The city's propagandists used those words, not me.
David Barksdale, a Republican, has carried the ball for this idea, as joined by numerous other pillars of the community, most of whom are Democrats. Because proponents sense that historic preservation alone won't play to the 25% of eligible voters who'll bother turning out in 2019, they've buttressed their case with other arguments.
The argument from civic patriotism
If we're to believe Mayor Jeff Gahan, the city of New Albany (read: the Democratic Party) is engaged in a Great Civil War with Floyd County government (or,the GOP), making it imperative for the municipality to one-up future mayoral opponent Mark Seabrook's team at every opportunity. As such, how can we allow city officials to labor in a veritable shambles on the third floor of a county-owned building?
It's worse than the Bulldogs being beaten by Floyd Central, and it has to stop.
Rebuttal: Seriously? Are we still in high school?
The argument from efficiency
Last year, when a project designed non-transparently and completely out of public view was announced, we were told the savings would be tremendous; instead of a quarter-million annually to occupy the City-County Building, we'd pay just a bit over $300,000 per year to occupy the Reisz on a rent-to-own basis.
This estimate has risen steadily to $570,000 per year; we're pledging TIF bonds and engaging in even more backroom chicanery to make even these inflated numbers work.
Meanwhile, no other options have been explored, no other buildings considered, and as yet, it has not been explained exactly why local government must quadruple its work space in the age of the microchip.
As rebuttal, it cannot be efficient to consider only one choice, then bend reality to suit this single outcome -- and just imagine how $570,000 each year might address a genuine need, like affordable housing for people, as opposed to luxury work spaces for government.
The argument for "putting skin in the game"
According to Barksdale, entrepreneurs and private investors have poured somewhere around $60 million into downtown during the past decade, an estimate he views as low, probably rightly.
Barksdale uses this number as the basis for his contention that by investing $8.5 million over 15 years into the rehabilitation of a single downtown building in need, so as to relocate an existing entity a full four blocks from one site to another, while at the same time taking the Reisz building off the tax rolls and deploying economic development resources to facilitate the needs of government, all of it taken together proves conclusively that City Hall is putting "skin in the game" (his quote).
Simply stated, this is sheer hokum.
To repeat, no other options have been considered. Councilman Scott Blair has sensibly suggested that "putting skin in the game" would be more sensible and effective if considered differently: working together, mayor and council might prioritize the Reisz building's rehabilitation, devote economic development funds and subsidies to enticing the private sector, keep the building on tax rolls and do, in effect, what already was done to incentivize the Breakwater, among others.
Yes, we've debated the efficacy of subsidies in the past, but clearly Blair is correct. A few hundred thousand to leverage the Reisz's salvation is far less than $8.5 million, freeing funding to be used for numerous other projects, not just one, or establishing grassroots programs for small business.
AND THIS IS THE POINT, FOLKS.
The Reisz City Hall project is based on a demonstrably false overall plea, this being an argument from the urgency of a single possibility -- a want rather than a need:
The only way municipal government can "help" downtown is by means of this single historic preservation project -- and time is running out, so if we don't agree immediately, there'll be no other chance, ever again.
This is bullshit, plain and simple, as demonstrated here today.
Unfortunately, one after the other, downtown stakeholders have marched to the lectern to repeat the falsehood.
(Note that there has been no wave of advocacy whatever from the city's neighborhoods and business districts outside the center; perhaps the single best alternative voiced thus far is the Bookseller's idea to move City Hall to the moribund Colonial Manor shopping center on Charlestown Road.)
Even worse, many of those in alignment with Barksdale and Gahan have been independent business operators, and to them I say:
Small biz peeps, I've experienced the pain, and I know exactly how you feel, but you need to look more closely.
If local government can help at all, it cannot help by devoting money with a myriad of potential uses to a single expensive initiative that primarily benefits local government itself.
If the Reisz building disappeared tomorrow (as I'm sure Gahan has threatened to facilitate if he doesn't get his way), then your daily issues would remain, as they were, unchanged -- and this also will be the outcome if the City Hall move actually occurs. It's never this one big thing; it's many smaller things.
The fact that community pillars aren't speaking of other options is a cynical and unforgivable diversion. There are many, except the fix is in -- and this fix has NOTHING to do with your betterment.
However, there is one solitary non-contradictory truthful argument in favor of spending $8.5 million to restore the Reisz building and move City Hall to it.
As historic preservationists, we must save this building at any cost, and limitless costs are what government is all about -- so we must act now.
In the end, this is all they have.
I don't know about you, but it's not enough for me.