A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.
If someone ignored the "no soliciting" sign on your porch and clambered up to the door, breathlessly offering to sell you a gizmo with the promise that the mere fact of owning it will save you all kinds of money, there are many good questions you might ask.
Of course, you might also command the huckster to vacate your porch, or else. I generally do. But in order to determine whether the peddler's product is a sound investment, one specific question tops the list:
How much does it cost?
Mayor Jeff Gahan is a former veneer salesman with a well-honed, thoroughly greasy sales pitch, and he thinks you're too stupid to ask how much a new city hall is going to cost you -- in tax dollars.
The (Reisz) project will save millions of dollars over time, as the city has paid costs in its current location for over 57 years. It will also help the surrounding businesses see their private investment backed up by pubic investment.
Take a magnifying glass to the undisguised gloating amid yesterday's city hall press release, stating that the multi-million dollar Reisz renovation is a done deal and a fixed formality, and further opposition from the likes of YOU is plainly useless, and you'll find absolutely no mention of the price tag.
Please allow me to fill in this blank.
The Reisz cost commitment already has topped $10,000,000 in a city where perhaps a quarter of the residents live below the poverty line; where Gahan and his new unofficial deputy mayor and slavish devotee David Barksdale are eager to demolish half of the city's public housing units; and where city hall has yet to mention aloud minor details like the opioid epidemic, the accompanying rise in thievery and petty crime, homelessness, and the worsening plight of our city's working poor.
The sloganeering is so oppressive that a Trump rally seems like the knitter's circle coffee klatsch by comparison.
Government lives matter!
(so, let's literally quadruple the size of municipal government)
Buildings not people!
(because elite cliques need historic fetishes, too)
If you have to ask what it costs, you can't afford it!
(it might be the only truthful statement yet uttered by these purported Democrats)
Team Gahan and affiliates can do the math, all right, so long as most of it is concealed.
What eludes them is simple human empathy.
Last week the News and Tribune's most inconsistent editor got to work defending the imperatives of government buildings over those of residents.
He begins by inferring an economic ripple effect from a single government-occupied building, without bothering to try to interpret economic conditions and trends downtown.
MORRIS: Reisz rehab would give downtown a boost, by Chris Morris (Where Multiple Tom Mays Roam)
... But the area needs another boost. Some businesses have closed recently while others are struggling. Just think what could happen with a vibrant city hall in a refurbished Reisz building, in the heart of our downtown. With life put back into a building that has sat empty for years, others may decide to invest and open a business, or at the very least visit the downtown. The downtown needs this project.
Morris saves his weakest argument for last.
I am a fan of uni-gov — otherwise known as one government for New Albany and Floyd County, and being in favor of adding another government building to the tax rolls goes against that theory. Uni-gov would eliminate duplicated services, there wouldn’t be these power struggles or personality conflicts, and it would save taxpayers money. Too much government only gets in the way of people trying to live their lives ...
... So why would I support spending money to rehabilitate this building, guaranteeing two separate government buildings just blocks apart? Even with a uni-gov the City-County Building will be needed for office space and to allow the courts to expand. That building is also in need of some renovation, but that is for another day ...
... It’s a big move but one I think the city needs to take. There are no other options on the table for the building and this makes the most sense. The downtown needs a boost, and putting city hall inside the Reisz Furniture building may be exactly what is needed. It’s worth the gamble.
Worth the $10,000,000 (or more) gamble, like it's Monopoly money?
If there is a consistent theme to the prevailing Reisz apologetic, it echoes the immortal words of Basil Fawlty: "Don't mention the cost!"
Or: Don't mention the opportunity cost, because we'll be spending an extra $400,000 a year for one government building when the money might be combined with private sector investments to assist dozens of other deserving historic structures downtown and those small businesses and residences occupying them, as well as incentivizing infill construction to fill vacant lots.
Alas, we've long understood that Morris's veneration of "respectable" authority is such that he'll automatically take the side of anyone and anything he's loosely capable of identifying as a selfless community pillar.
Morris comes perilously close to openly acknowledging that this fact-free approach is contradictory as it pertains to uni-gov, and yet he churns out the logic sausage as predictably as Team Gahan and HWC Engineering render Jeff Speck's walkability into more of the same car-centrism.
I asked the newspaper for a similar word count in rebuttal. To my mild surprise, the offer was accepted, and I wrote the following. It was published yesterday; this is the "Director's Cut," leaving intact two passages I was asked by the editor to remove. You'll probably be able to guess which ones.
Last week the News and Tribune’s Chris Morris supported governmental intervention ostensibly aimed at “saving” the Reisz Furniture Warehouse by renovating it into a lavish new city hall.
I’d love to see Reisz put to use, just not like this. To understand why, let’s follow the money.
Dating to 1852, the Reisz building has been a flour mill, funeral home and shirt factory. Purchased by Schmitt Furniture in 1988, it served mostly as cheap storage.
At any point during three decades, Schmitt might have opted to “save” Reisz but didn’t, and so a central point of Mayor Jeff Gahan’s case for adaptive reuse is a suddenly urgent need to rectify the "dilapidated” building’s “neglect” (his words).
Apparently there are no penalties in New Albany for structure abuse.
Last August the Redevelopment Commission authorized funds for Gahan’s relocation project, at the time neither subject to an RFP (request for proposal), nor approved by city council. Detailed explanations were offered by Denton Floyd Real Estate Group, with whom Gahan is partnering, as though the deal already had been sealed.
Perhaps this occurred when former redevelopment tsar David Duggins accompanied Denton Floyd last fall for a limousine junket to Keeneland.
By May of 2018, the RFP formality was hurdled. $750,000 passed from Redevelopment to Denton Floyd, including the purchase price of $390,000, with the remainder to empty the building of junk.
Denton Floyd would complete the 23,000-square-foot buildout for city hall’s relocation (currently City Hall uses 6,500 sq. ft. at the City County Building), with a 15-year “rent to own” lease.
Yearly payments will be $570,000, or $8,500,000 over 15 years. By comparison, $200,000 during the same period in the City County Building totals $3,000,000. Another $500,000 is approved for office furnishings, surely a low estimate.
Ten months ago the city’s combined yearly cost at Reisz was estimated at $215,000. It’s more than tripled since then, with just shy of $10,000,000 committed to the project. The total cost of ownership inevitably will rise; in addition to inevitable price hikes, county officials insist the city remains bound to its current landlord. Lawsuits are likely.
20% of the city’s population lives below the poverty line, yet Gahan, who concurrently seeks to demolish half our public housing units, wants to spend an additional $370,000 - $400,000 yearly on city offices, citing the ripple effects of economic development that relocation will generate.
We should be asking whether these ripple effects are real or imagined.
The most persistent advocate of the Reisz project is David Barksdale, historic preservationist and city councilman, who thinks Reisz must be renovated at any cost, and presumably, since limitless costs are government’s responsibility, seeks largess from a bottomless well of cash.
Barksdale touts the project as “skin in the game,” a way of showing downtown stakeholders that City Hall stands with them.
After all, entrepreneurs and small independent business owners have invested $60 million or more into downtown during the past decade, while enjoying few of the subsidies available to suburban industrial park occupants.
Barksdale’s argument is flawed. Private investors spend their own money, but the money required for the municipality’s funding of a single speculative historic preservation project isn’t cash from Gahan’s or Barksdale’s pockets.
Rather, this “skin” belongs to the city’s taxpayers – and they haven’t been asked.
Naturally downtown stakeholders need functional “skin” in the game, this being shared, collective infrastructure, including streets, sewers, police and firefighters. These are grassroots needs, citywide.
City Hall spending almost $10 million on itself? That’s a top-down want.
Some compare a new city hall with the YMCA. It’s absurd. The YMCA brings people downtown who might not otherwise come. Moving city offices three whole blocks changes nothing. The same workers come to work, and they eat the same lunch. There is no net gain.
Furthermore, a relocated city hall threatens to bump Harvest Homecoming’s kiddie rides from its current location, posing a financial hardship for the city’s premier annual festival.
As for the exaggerated rhetoric of historic preservation, $7 million for one additional restored historic building won’t be diverting tour buses.
Numerous structures of historic significance lie within a five minute stroll of Reisz. No study has been conducted to determine whether one of them might be suitable as city hall. No other options even have been considered. If floated as a referendum, this relocation boondoggle probably would lose 70%-30%, or worse.
Ironically Morris, a proponent of unified city-county government (uni-gov), can’t see that Gahan’s interest in city hall relocation is politically motivated, having nothing to do with historic preservation or the Reisz building itself apart from the utility of prying away Barksdale’s council vote to restore Gahan’s control of an otherwise lapsed majority.
City hall’s relocation addresses Gahan’s pathological hatred of uni-gov. He’d secede from the county if allowed, and he’d relocate HQ to a suitably luxurious pole barn if one existed. Plainly, the aim is political preservation for Gahan and Democrats, and Reisz is just one move in a chess game to stave off power-sharing with the county.
Shouldn’t we wait until municipal elections in 2019 to discuss moving city hall?
Let your councilman know this mandate (if any) should come from the people, not the city’s ruling elites.
June 12: ON THE AVENUES: Histrionic preservation? $8.5 million to gift Jeff Gahan with a luxury city hall "want" is simply obscene in a time of societal need.
June 7: ON THE AVENUES: Taco Bell has as much to do with "local business" as Jeff Gahan does with "quality urban design principles."
There was no column on May 31.
May 24: ON THE AVENUES: Long live Keg Liquors Fest of Ale, an indisputable annual beer institution.