Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Turf War

Anyone wondering why we'll never be able to merge city and county goverment (a la Indianapolis) ought to look at the current flap over the City-County Building, which Tracy Warner blogged about Tuesday.

The "will they or won't they" question regarding city government considering moving some or all offices from the City-County Building to Renaissance Square was finally the topic of a public sit-down Monday between Mayor Graham Richard and the county commissioners. Too bad it wasn't televised.

As the JG's story indicated, the commissioners took some swipes at the mayor -- some of which he deserved -- about keeping the commissioners hanging on about the city's plans. Richard held his own.

The city's goals became clearer at the meeting. Richard wants to get the city police out of the inadequate, aging building on Creighton Ave.; get the fire department out of the old garage near Lafayette Street; and get neighborhood code out of the its small Washington Boulevard office. He wants to get them all together, and is looking at the Renaissance Square building as the new home. Richard made it clear he'd like to see the county Sheriff's Department there too, but the commissioners shut him down because the sheriff doesn't want to be downtown and because the department needs new offices yesterday.

Acknowledging that part of the conflict may be due to the fact that the city government is led by a Democratic administration while the county government is almost exclusively Republican, it still baffles me that we're even talking about this as a viable possibility.

Anyone who has been in Renaissance Square during the period that it's been housing the main branch of the library knows that the building's in horrible shape (just ask any library employee), the most noticeable flaw being the carpet peeling up from the floors. And forget about parking; the current lot is not even close to serving the needs of those visiting the library -- there's no way it could handle the cars of those working for or doing business with the city. So if the city moves, we're looking at a massive renovation as well as a parking garage construction.

Not to get all conspiratorial, but it would be worth it to find out who owns Renaissance Square and if they have any connections to the Richard administration, as this was a building that was so desirable that it sat empty for years (until the library moved in) and now the mayor seems to want to move in.

That's not to say that the mayor doesn't have legitimate reasons for wanting to relocate, but I'm not sure this one, which Tracy notes, is a very good one:

Richard explained his plan to create a one-stop shop for developers -- putting in a single location departments like city and county planning, city right of way, county building, county surveyor and others agencies that developers have to obtain permits from. There's no room to put them together in the City-County Building, Richard said.

"Why can't we do it on two floors?" Bloom asked.

That wouldn't be a single location, Richard replied.

But there's no floor in the City-County Building that can handle all the offices, Bloom said, intending to counter Richard but instead proving his point.

As long as its in the same building, I think that would qualify as the same location. (We do still have working elevators in the City-County Building, don't we?) I'm not sure cramming all of those departments in the same office is a good enough reason for paying to renovate Renaissance Square, anyway.

If anything, Richard sounds like an impetuous child who wants to move regardless of what kind of compromises might be reached -- he wants all those departments in the same location and he already knows that can't happen in the City-County Building unless they're on more than one floor, but that doesn't qualify as the same location in his mind, so it's time to start looking for a new place -- with the tax-payers footing the bill, of course.

Warner is wrong: Bloom didn't prove Richard's point, she just revealed its absurdity. And I can't believe that no one else out there is calling him on this. Are we so drunk with dreams of "economic redevelopment" that we automatically nod in agreement when the mayor says it's essential to have a "one-stop shop" for developers, with multiple offices in the same building (and on the same floor, dammit!)?

Then there is the notion that we could relocate the police and fire departments to Renaissance Square as well. I don't know if you've ever been to the police department headquarters on Creighton Avenue (I have), but I'm not sure you could fit everything the police would need into whatever space is available. And don't forget, you're going to need a place to park and store all those police cars, something Renaissance Square currently doesn't have the room to do.

Maybe that's part of the reason why Richard said during the meeting that preliminary studies commissioned by the city put acquiring Renaissance Square not as a "viable option" but something in the "ballpark" of possibilities.

Excuse me? Ballpark?! The City's lease for the City-County Building requires it to inform the County of its plans in four months, and we're still discussing things in the "ballpark" of possibilities?

No, we're doing better than that -- we've agreed to spend another $100,000 on a NEW study, hiring an outside consultant to "determine how to best locate city and county offices to maximize efficiency and make them easy for citizens to use," according to the JG report of the meeting by Ben Lanka. "The [county] commissioners set aside $100,000 for a joint space study in their 2006 budget," he writes. If we're lucky, that study will be completed in time to commision another more expensive study before the end of this year! The more studies, the better! (As long as you're a consultant.)

Seriously, I can't believe I'm the only one who finds this all so ridiculous. Especially in light of Dan Stockman's investigative piece on what's happening with the Schwab Foundation, I can't believe we've got this monkey business going on right under our noses and no one is saying anything about it.

Someone please tell me what I'm missing here...

UPDATE: According to an anonymous poster, Renaissance Square is owned by George Huber.

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