Saturday, May 23, 2015

I’m still thinking about City Hall.

It has been a week and I have a few more thoughts to share on City Hall. I must start with the caveat that I am neither an architect nor an engineer.  But I am someone who has been chosen (at least for now) by the people of Paducah to look out for both the city’s finances and its character. And I’m starting to think that tearing down the old City Hall building and starting fresh is not necessarily the way to go.

If we instead chose to renovate the old building, we would have the unique opportunity to make some changes that would put parts of it to better use. Take for example the way we could use the spaces in the building that are underutilized now. What about moving the staff of Parks and Recreation to the basement offices and closing the old Parks and Rec building?  Yes, the Senior Citizen Program would have to find a new home, maybe (as a first thought) the Convention Center. The old building is terrifically inefficient, energy-wise.  Could it be sold and have those savings redeployed in the City Hall? Could E911 and IT Department be moved into City Hall and those buildings disposed of? That could also create some savings.

That’s just one thought, but there really are lots of changes we could make to the City Hall we have now that would allow it to be just as useful as new building.

Another thought of mine is the aesthetics of the building. I’ve talked to people who love how it looks and people who hate how it looks, and we’ll never get a consensus there. But know this—there will never be another built like it. It was intended to make a statement about Paducah, and it has been part of the fabric of Paducah’s history since 1964. Shiny new things sound exciting, but that’s because nobody wants to think about the fact that when you bulldoze a piece of history you can never get it back.

I’m especially concerned now because of the RFQ (“Request For Qualifications,” which is where we advertise for hiring an architect) that the City has had out, and the accompanying timeline. This timeline calls for us to have an architect chosen in only slightly more than six weeks, and the design for the new building completed in January of next year. Are we that sure that we want a new City Hall in the first place? Where’s a comparison of the costs of building vs. renovating? We still do not know. Don’t we need a better—smarter—idea of what we need to do before we rush off and choose who we want to do it?

I know I am an impatient person who is going to slow down on this because this is an opportunity to really get it right for all of us. So, I’m still thinking about all this and you should too. Let me know what you think.

Friday, May 15, 2015

To build anew or renovate the old, that is the question

I’ve been getting quite a lot of advice lately on what to do with city hall.  It is well meaning and obviously from the heart.  I get that.  I, regardless of what the advisors might think, am truly conflicted about which way I will lean in the final tally.

Having said all this, I think I might try to explain what is on my mind concerning city hall.  I had the great pleasure of meeting University of Tennessee’s James Mason several weeks ago in the basement of city hall.  I joined Bill Black in the city workshop.  Mr. Mason is quite the structural engineer, and I truly mean that.  He is worth a Google.  I came away from that hour thinking this guy is the quarterback throwing a “Hail Mary” pass in the final seconds of a very important football game. Ha, you didn’t think I knew about sports.  Last Tuesday, I had the repeated pleasure of listening to two of his talks on how we might save city hall.  Well, as to the roof canopy and earthquake stabilization anyway.  Tuesday night was his final talk to the commission.  You can watch it on the city’s website; it is really quite informative.

I did not say much that night, but I will now.  It would seem that we really have two options.  Yes, I know many will say that there is only one, save the city hall.  At the risk of being vilified by friends and others alike, I would say we have two courses of action.

Bacon, Farmer, Workman, the Paducah engineering firm, could be instructed to incorporate the Mason Plan with their own findings to come up with a revised plan.  By the way, one of the most intriguing parts of James Mason’s plan is that the city hall stays “in business” during the roof canopy repair and the earthquake remediation repair.  Additionally, these two critical parts are not interdependent on one another.  One could be done with the other done at a later date, funding wise.

The other idea is to right-size the city hall if it is to be a new building.  And here’s the thing, our city hall is some 60,000 sq. ft. in total while the basement takes up an astonishingly, half of it.  Sounds to me like we have been using, in the main, some 30,000 sq. ft. for our people to work in, not the 50,000 sq. ft. that has been bandied about.  Understand I’m no architect or engineer, but there must be a kernel of significance somewhere. Hopkinsville has such a 30,000 sq. ft. structure, and we could well learn from them the costs, advantages and disadvantages of their experience without going through the process of hiring an architect and all that entails to get this data for us. And this could be a real game changer, a smaller, truly efficient city hall.

So, there you have it.  Until we get a more accurate handle on the cost to redo an irreplaceable icon versus the cost of a plainer, more administrative type city hall building I will be hard pressed to decide.  I could use your forbearance on this point.  Don’t tell me that the existence of Paducah rests on this renovation of city hall, and if I don’t vote to save it then all our talk about historic this and UNESCO that is meaningless.  I am working hard on this one, I promise.  I can hardly get away from it.  Patience.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

An Easy One

Many things in my city commission life get complicated.  It is a relief to occasionally come across a “piece of cake”.  As the detective Hercule Poirot might intone, we should rest the little grey cells.

The easy decision I’m speaking of is to keep the “train set” intact and get local people to paint it.  If all four pieces; locomotive, tender, combine and caboose simply stay put at the floodwall, this will pay tribute to our railroad heritage.  That is the least we owe them.  By doing the job locally with a retired VMV employee in the lead, I’m certain we can paint the train for less than $10,000.  That economy is what we owe you.

I need a rest from complicated decisions; this one is just too easy to pass.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sackcloth and Ashes

Sackcloth and ashes is an old Hebrew custom, that by wearing this, sackcloth and ashes, we are saying that we are sorry and sad for things we have done wrong.  I find myself thinking that Paducah is suffering from this sackcloth and ashes syndrome in our repeatedly negative thoughts as to why our population is declining instead of growing.  More specifically we are compared to Owensboro, a city I know something about.  I was born there.

In an effort to stem this flow of sorrow and sadness I would, at the risk of being Pollyanna,  offer up a few thoughts on our less than moribund city downtown.  I am centering my attention on this area since Owensboro has gained some bit of  positive press as of late.

In the child’s game “I’m better than you are” we could offer many comparisons between our two cities.  Though not downtown, we could start with the new Owensboro hospital with its 477 beds to our two hospitals with 732 beds.  Both cities boast similar performing art centers and convention centers.  Our National Quilt Museum is their Bluegrass Music Museum, good for both cities for these one of a kind museums and festivals.

While Paducah does not have the two downtown hotels that Owensboro has, it should be noted that Owensboro had three hometown developers to get the hotels and more, well, developed.  Just because we do not have a downtown hotel now doesn’t mean this is the way it will always be.  Not to make excuses, Paducah received only a quarter of the federal dollars for its riverfront park, yet, we to are on a path to our park, built and funded in our own way. I think you could point with pride to Crounce, Ingram, and the Paducah and Louisville Railroad in their relocations downtown.  Owensboro’s Texas Gas Transmission just moved to their downtown.

I would be remiss in not mentioning several unique to Paducah places. The Maiden Alley Cinema is one of only four art house theaters in Kentucky.  Paducah is the only city in Kentucky with a UNESCO designation. How cool is that.  And then there is the National Geographic Travel top 50 cities to visit.  And did I mention that Paducah is one of a little more than 100 cities nationwide to be awarded a National Main Street City.  Add in The Market House Theater, Lower Town Arts District, Symphony Orchestra, floodwall murals, River Discovery Center, William Clark, Paducah Train Museum and the Seaman’s Church for Maritime Training Facility, and you would have an impressive list for any downtown, much less a city of 25,000 souls.

Am I happy about the status quo of no growth?  Of course not.  But I feel that Paducah and McCracken County will solve our growth problem.  In our own way and yes, in our own time.  Look, we have an enormously talented citizenry.  We accomplish much, and will continue to do so.  At this juncture I’m trying to provide some balance in our outlook. This sackcloth and ashes mentality is not productive.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Paducah's E911

Today’s Paducah Sun editorial is just wrong.  The decision I reached to have a city run E911 was not taken because it was politically easy or pleasing to the editorial board of the Paducah Sun.  The decision I reached was after months and months of thought, study and conversations with many of you. My mind is never very far away from my obligation to you.  I don’t work for the newspaper.  I work for you.  You elected me to do the best I can for you. I’m not particularly interested in what the paper has to say; they sell papers.  I have to think about what is best for the citizens of Paducah as a whole.  And yes, it is an awesome responsibility.

O.K. I have got it off my chest; here are my thoughts. 

There is an adage I learned from my dad early on--if you are going to take a risk there better be a reward.  The bigger the risk, then bigger the reward is paramount.  And never invert this business maximum.  Now, let’s apply this to an issue facing Paducah.

I have a problem with the Kentucky State Police proposal to be Paducah’s E911 dispatch.

First, Lt. Brent White of the KSP described our E911 as “high functioning and desirable,” while calling the KSP proposal a “barebones system.”  After nine months of study, why is the KSP still offering a bare bones system when that is not what we have?  Yes, this would make it less expensive, but at what risk?

At a city commission meeting White said that KSP’s call volume would double when KSP becomes our E911 provider; yet the number of dispatchers would only increase from four to six positions.  That math made no sense to me.  And neither did the response that KSP was a more efficient organization.

Bottom line for me is the KSP E911 dispatch proposal is a “fuzzy feel good.” We are looking at apples and oranges and expect to get the same service for less money.  I have made that E911 call at 4:30 A.M. with a major house fire.  I realize what a vital service E911 is to our community.

 Sorry, this risk reward ratio is backwards.  I’ll not support the KSP as our E911 provider.

Further, to be completely transparent, if the state does not increase the E911 funding by increasing the tax on cell phones from its current level, then I will support a tax to support our E911 own dispatch.