Amid the garbage, we contemplate Groundhog Day in New Albany.


It’s over … almost. Yesterday downtown business owners commiserated on Twitter, welcoming a resumption of the daily working world.

It’s a reminder that New Albany’s version of Groundhog Day occurs in early October. When Harvest Homecoming is here, the blinders are donned with a speed hitherto unwitnessed. City Hall (any one of them, actually, dating back to the Ford Administration) emerges with trepidation into Hauss Square, is abruptly terrified that it might see its own shadow — and then we get six more years of status quo.

Ultimately, it needs to be understood that Harvest Homecoming’s yearly occupation of downtown is an issue for city government to take a public role in mediating. The festival takes place because the city allows it to take place, always under Harvest Homecoming’s terms of engagement, and with what amounts to infrastructure subsidies for the festival that are not consistently applied throughout the remainder of the year (street department work , police and fire overtime, etc.)

And yet nowhere, neither in an ordinance nor on a granite tablet, is there a law that states Harvest Homecoming must occur in the fashion it does. With downtown revitalizing, each passing year brings escalating conflicts between what Harvest Homecoming requires to impose its business model on downtown, and the optimum way for downtown to function for the remainder of the year. Downtown is no longer a vacuum, and arbitration is desperately needed. City government can broker solutions any time it wishes; approval for Harvest Homecoming is at city government’s discretion. But no communication is facilitated, and the rancor grows. This year it has been particularly nasty.

Independent local business operators downtown are beginning to look past the silence as it pertains specifically to Harvest Homecoming, and grasping with escalating dismay that the city’s inaction is more institutional than we ever imagined. What we must begin asking is why the city in effect invests so much yearly in a temporary, imposed, alien business model dedicated primarily to extracting value for its own self-perpetuation (that’s Harvest Homecoming as 800-lb gorilla), but has no systematic plan for downtown investment for the other 360 days of the year.

For those interested in no-brainer “big pictures,” here is one: Given the downtown advances of the past decade, as driven by entrepreneurs, private investment and volunteers, the city of New Albany has done next to nothing to deserve its downtown revitalization. In point of fact, talk is cheap. The city has been fortunate, and perhaps now it feels as though nothing needs to be done for the bounty to continue.

I disagree. It’s time for the city to ante up and put skin in the downtown game equivalent to its “economic development” plans on the periphery, and equal to what is devoted to Harvest Homecoming’s ever more fallacious argument: “We bring people downtown and showcase the city — and that’s economic development.”

Exactly what the new generation of downtown business is doing, all year long. Twelve months versus four days … let me do the math. Allowing Harvest Homecoming to continue the way it currently operates absent substantive reform is an abdication of duty on the part of the city, plain and simple.