Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Missed Opportunity

A Post from Afar
(This commissioner doesn't go on vacation; he just frets about city politics via text messages and the use of his daughter's secretarial services.)

(For those new to the issue, this is in regards to the fate of the red brick building at the corner of 4th and Harrison Sts. It was voted last night to accept the proposal for the new owners to demolish the building and erect the Troutt General Store in its place. The losing proposal was for it to be kept and turned into apartments.)

I just did not see it coming. Yes, I had received emails from neighbors in support of the proposed Troutt General Store here in LowerTown, but I couldn't help but think of the tragedy of tearing down a building that dates back to just after the Civil War. No, I'm not a hopeless romantic. I understand that there is a balance that must be struck between economic growth and historical preservation, but still feel that there could have been an alternative to demolition of this structure.

Chad Beyer of i5 Design had also submitted a proposal, for renovating it to create a new four-unit apartment building. Paducah, we know, is starting an Upper-Story Living Initiative downtown. If we are to attract young thinkers and community-builders from both at home and afar, we must create attractive, affordable housing in downtown and LowerTown to give the district that sought-after metropolitan vibe.

The Troutt General store is a good thing too, but for me, there had to have been a better way forward. This did not have to be a zero-sum game. With more consideration, both projects should have been allowed to survive in a way that pleased entrepreneurs and preservationists alike. Unfortunately, we missed the opportunity to find a great location for the Troutt General Store and give a historic building a new life as a downtown living space.

To me, there is no better way to inspire a passion for Paducah in the minds of new downtown residents than to promote modern living in history-rich places. And while retail spaces like general stores, restaurants and groceries make for sustainable neighborhoods, if we don't also focus on residential spaces, who will be here to sustain them?

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Go Muzzle Yourself.

Now that the first festivals of the year have passed…and we couldn’t possibly have any more city hall issues out there, I have turned my thoughts to the muzzling of dogs.  This is not about “should you bring your dog to an event?”  It is not a liability primer concerning dogs.  And it is not about how hot pavement must be painful to the pads of the dog’s feet.  No, this is just questioning why we have an ordinance muzzling your dog in city festivals or parks or well, wherever. 

My go-to logic says, “What do other cities do?”  Naturally, I tend to think of places that we might be willing to visit or to live in ourselves.  How about Lexington, Austin or Nashville.  What do they say about “the muzzle ordinance?”  As a Google user it is easy to find out.  All three of these very livable cities do not consider muzzling dogs enough of an issue to make it an ordinance.  O.K. You got me. They do mention “vicious dogs.”  But really, what is it that we know that the aforementioned cities don’t know?  Maybe we have discovered that the muzzle ordinance is the “cutting edge” of truly livable cities and by retaining the ordinance we will leapfrog Nashville, Lexington and Austin.

My guess is that our city is simply, just more risk averse, but risk abounds in everyday life.  I suspect we may be told that we are safer when dogs are muzzled in public, but that is hardly quantifiable. It just seems strange that three very livable cities have gone one way, and we have gone another.   

Let the muzzles be removed and your comments begin. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

I'm getting tired.

I’m getting tired.

I appreciate the Paducah Sun’s generally positive editorial on the PRDA’s efforts to recommend a way forward on the riverfront’s, to use the pejorative, “rock pile.”  Again, what is so great about partially finishing the park to conserve monies to get the transient boat dock partially finished?

All of this is purely academic.  Until we get contractor’s bids, and our track record on the “bump out” has been less than stellar, we really have no idea as to what we can build and at what cost.  Why do we still hold onto a riverfront plan that was developed in 2007?  The world is changing.

In the Berenstain Bears children’s book Get The Gimmies we learn that bear cubs cannot have everything they see.  Likewise, does the city have that old “gimmie gleam” in their eyes? With my “no” vote, it will probably be another 4-1 vote.

I’m just tired of talking about all this spending.  Maybe I should quit talking. My fellow commissioners and the mayor probably would be happier with me……but…..I suspect you will hear more from me. 

I’m pulling for you.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Wolf By Its Ears, Still

A Wolf By Its Ears, Still…

Why do I have to be the one to raise the objections? Don’t the others see what I see, that the city has to live within its means? Once again, it seems that we have that old “gimmie gleam” in our eyes.  That gleam is, of course, the Riverfront Park.

Seven and one half months ago I posted “a wolf by its ears.”  You might read it for a bit of background.  I just don’t get it.  We paused the entire riverfront project because of not enough rock.  About $800,000 of not enough rock.  PRDA was given the task to straighten the mess out and give the city a new way forward.  And they worked hard.  I think the other commissioners were really spooked at that $800,000 cost over-run last summer.  Tonight we have a new way forward, and after you add all of the monies still to be spent we are still at, are you ready for this, $800,000 short.  From the PRDA proposal it appears we are $481,582 short.  However, this number does not include the Boating Infrastructure Grant match from the city to the tune of $320,000.  Added together it amounts to $801,582 of your tax dollars to complete the riverfront.  Except it is not a completed thing. My guess is that the camel has his nose under the tent, and I‘m sure there will be more taxpayer expense to come as we dress the riverfront.

I tried, unsuccessfully, an idea from PRDA’s own cost figures.  It is called scenario #4.  To wit: If the city would vote to lose the gangway, transient boat dock, fuel service, in other words all the water activities, it would appear we could have a completed park with all the amenities at the desired level above flood stage for approximately $3.5 million.  This is well under the Federal Highway Grant of $3.8 million.  No more taxpayer money.  A completed park that all of us could enjoy.

And hey, we could use that $800,000 as a down payment on turning the old Executive Inn area into park space that will connect to the riverfront park.

The city must live within its means.  It isn’t pleasant being the naysayer, but I have to do what I think is right for the taxpayer.  Spending has to pass my filter for my “yes” vote.

Tonight we voted to get the grant agencies to bless, or not, the proposed revisions to the riverfront.  Better to ask permission than to plead for forgiveness.  As a husband, I get this concept.

I expect to be out-voted on the riverfront project in the coming weeks.  I’m not surprised, given the votes last year on this project were 4 to 1.  I’m used to it.  This vote allows the city to advertise for bids to be taken on the riverfront project.

Once the bids come in we will review and vote again.  Hope we don’t get the same surprise as last year.

And one final fact you may not get a riverfront booster to mention.  The total pleasure boat traffic through the two locks was down 21% for 2013.  A whopping 628 boats came through Barkley and Kentucky Locks, for the entire year.  Doubt they all made it to the Paducah riverfront.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

City Hall Is Dying

City Hall

As Paducah’s City Hall closes in on its fiftieth birthday, it is dying.  Edward Durell Stone, the building’s renowned architect, would not be happy about the demise of his masterpiece, his rendition of the United States Embassy in New Delhi, India, also his architectural creation.

Age 50 is nowhere near old age and death.  It shouldn’t be this way, but our City Hall is not dying from some horrific event.  No, City Hall is just dying from a thousand small cuts.  These cuts were probably not malicious, but they are cuts nonetheless.

There was a time that City Hall literally seemed to float on a sea of light. All its columns, each lit at night, have grown dark or are only partially lit. The black stair railings that have guided dignitaries and everyday citizens for nearly five decades have been allowed to rust away from their moorings on the concrete steps that lead to the roofed piazza.  And that roof, it is bending low now at the ends, like a man needlessly stooped at middle age.  As you approach from the 5th Street side, the concrete piazza is broken and pockmarked--not from a catastrophe, just no one cared to keep the grand entrance grand.  And don’t forget to notice the small chains up high near the entrance doors.  I believe they are forgotten remnants for the hanging of the Christmas wreaths.  Those entrance doors from both 4th and 5th Streets have a less than pleasing “grafted on” look.  Instead of thoughtfully restoring the original doors, we made do with something less. And that is what we got, something less. At some point it was decided to “modernize” the windows with a fresh coat of grey paint.  Too bad the paint covered the aluminum that had originally been designed by Mr. Stone.  As a further insult, the surface couldn’t have been prepped correctly because the grey is flaking away.

I should stop here. This subject is dispiriting enough.  And I bear responsibility also.  As your commissioner I have not demanded the attention this building needs. It is just a sad way to treat our front door to the world.  Maybe we should try to formulate a plan to correct the slights to our seat of city government.  If not, its epitaph might read: “Some by war, some by pestilence--no, our City Hall perished due to neglect and deferred maintenance.” 

I have told you my feelings, but I need to hear from you.  So let’s have it. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Hotel Finally

Hotel, finally

I have this rather dog-eared business card still in my wallet.  I will have carried it for almost a year now.  At the time, December 18th 2012, I was a commissioner-elect who had just been introduced to Glen Malone, the Chief Operation Officer of Senate Hospitality.  In the press conference, Mayor Paxton explained the hotel project wasn’t 100% complete.  It would take four of five months to finish the paperwork, but it was on Bill’s list of things to finish before he left office later that month, and everyone was good with that.  Before the press conference was over, I had added Glenn’s partner Dave Jones and the hotel developer David Puckett’s names to the aforementioned business card. 

By January, you thought I had only visions of the greenway trail Tunnel dancing in my head.  Not so.  There was the 68-page Hotel Market and Feasibility Study written by Johnson Consulting Company.  This document would be my new best friend as winter turned to spring, and to summer, and to fall. This is the book that answered all those questions about who, what, when, where, how much, well, you get the idea.  I lost track of how many times I read and reread it.  Scarily, I became conversant with the lingo of the hotel industry.  I could talk about RevPAR, Induced Impacts, and the Competitive Hotel Set until I thought my head would blow off.  But my time was dwarfed by the hours the team of Steve Doolittle and Jeff Pederson spent.  These guys really put in the hours. I asked Jeff how much of a time suck the hotel project was, and “second most complicated project in my City Manager career” was the answer.  Just so you know, moving the Nebraska State Fair to Grand Island was first on his list.

And, of course, I did do a bit of independent study on the project.  Malcolm Bryant’s Owensboro Riverfront Hotel seems to be a similar project in Owensboro as far as the city, the investors, the state, and the bank participation, as is our hotel project in Paducah.

So last week we had the hotel announcement, and tonight we approved the development agreement at the commission meeting.   

Since the hotel announcement, I have heard from more than a few of you guys.  The comment has been something like, “ Well, since you don’t have the name of the hotel maybe it isn’t a done deal.”  My answer is this: if you were going to use my Etcetera Coffeehouse name on your newly started coffee venture, I would first have a long list of “best practices” on how to run the coffee business.  This “to do” list would be lengthy.  Until you were in compliance, I would not let you use my name on your new venture.  And you wouldn’t either if the roles were reversed.  Well, I pretty sure that is the way any national franchise would do it too. I know that is standard for franchising in the automobile industry, and I have some experience there. So trust me on this one.  Paducah will get its business class hotel on the riverfront.

We have spent most of a year on a significant project for Paducah, I’ve still got Glenn Malone’s dog-eared business card, and I don’t think anyone would say we have rushed into a decision.  We’ve made a good one.  I’m completely comfortable in my support of the downtown hotel.