ON THE AVENUES: Key events in the New Albanian rebirth, but first, a piccolo of grappa, per favore.


ON THE AVENUES: Key events in the New Albanian rebirth, but first, a piccolo of grappa, per favore.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

In a recent piece about forward progress in downtown New Albany, the Courier-Journal’s Bailey Loosemore makes an attribution, and with the reader’s forbearance, I’d like to begin today by offering a gentle corrective to what strikes me as a significant omission – actually, two of them.

“Five years after the commission’s creation, (David) Barksdale and commercial realtor Mike Kopp approached the city with an idea for attracting new restaurants to those now preserved buildings.”

Specifically, the idea in question refers to the Riverfront Development District, a concept minted by the state of Indiana, and conveniently defined by our compatriots in South Bend.

I hear that it is possible to apply for a 3-way license in parts of Downtown South Bend that only costs $1,000. Is this true?

Yes, within the boundaries of the defined Municipal Riverfront Development District.

What is a Municipal Riverfront Development District (District)?

A district where 3-way licenses are made available to eligible establishments for $1,000 as a way to spur development near a river.

How did South Bend find a way to create this District?

A piece of state legislation made it available and the Common Council approved the District and with the goal of spurring development in the District.

When I first read Loosemore’s piece, something quickly began nagging at me, but I couldn’t pin it down until a good friend reminded me that Paul Wheatley was New Albany’s economic development director in 2006. These days he’s a private development consultant.

I wrote to him seeking clarification.

“Paul, I was thinking back to 2006, when you were still in New Albany and the riverfront development district was passed. Obviously, those alcohol permits have been crucial. Was this something with which economic development guys like you were widely familiar at the time? I’m curious as to how the process got started. Ten years later, I remain shocked that our city council at the time passed it unanimously. It may have been that particular group’s single greatest achievement.”

Wheatley’s reply:

“If you want to know the truth, I patterned it almost 100% off the district that Dave Duggins and Phil McCauley set up in Jeffersonville. We used the TIF District and the Historic District as the boundary area (which had to stay within 2500 feet of the river). It’s been really neat to see all the entrepreneurs take advantage of this incentive over the years. The special district + YMCA + Steve Resch (and others) has really turned the tide.”

Mind you, I’m not suggesting that the impetus for the riverfront development district didn’t emanate in some fashion from Barksdale and Kopp, only that Wheatley deserves his measure of recognition for drafting the legislation and leading the effort to get this measure through the under-achieving labyrinth of a council often hostile to any initiative undertaken by Mayor James Garner.

This is the second point of importance.

In 2006, Garner was this city’s mayor. Because the riverfront development district didn’t come into wide use until 2008 and beyond, casual observers tend to associate it with Doug England, but while England certainly supported the district once he returned to office, the commemorative plaque in this instance must go to his predecessor.

Facts are pesky little critters, aren’t they?

Frankly, it’s astounding that Loosemore was able to write an article about New Albany without serial photo-bomber Irv Stumler inviting himself into the narrative – tossing his own peculiar word salad, pontificating about city life from Peterbilt’s unique perspective, and positioning himself in direct chronological contrast with the story’s header: New Albany’s rebirth attracts young residents.

I’ve been speculating about what Irv will do when the streets finally run both directions. Will he accept the will of the voters (on the Board of Works, at least), and make a clean, orderly transition to two-way traffic, or continue to drive as before, eastbound in the westbound and down, attired in camouflage, one hand on the wheel and the other shaking a grubby penciled–in petition from the driver’s side window?

But I digress.

Loosemore identities “three key events in the city’s history that most New Albanians agree led to the downtown’s rebirth,” and let me be the first to congratulate her for using the term New Albanian.

Gee, I wonder who coined it?

  • 2000: The creation of the New Albany Historic Preservation Commission.
  • 2006: David Barksdale and commercial realtor Mike Kopp’s idea to establish a riverfront development district, “which allowed restaurants within three blocks of a waterway to purchase three-way liquor licenses for $1,000.”
  • 2008: The Floyd County Family YMCA opened its doors.

Assuming most New Albanians agree on these key events, which almost certainly isn’t the case, it is noteworthy that the first one occurred on Regina Overton’s watch, and the other two as a result of Garner’s advocacy.

In turn, this is why the gauging of legacies can take a little time.

There’s something else: The most recent “key” event occurred eight years ago. Hasn’t anything of importance happened since then?

I’ll nominate three; feel free to disagree.

1. Two-way streets. They’ll have been stripped of many potentially valuable features and taken far too long to implement, but at this point anything will help.

2. The sale of Floyd Memorial Hospital. While this has nothing whatever to do with city government, county government receiving nutrients again after a decade-long, self-imposed starvation diet is bound to affect the city. The outcome might even be positive.

3. Matt Chalfant’s new building at 137 East Spring. It is small, and the palatial “luxury” pressboard of Break Wind Lofts at Duggins Flats will get all the ink, but Chalfant’s unsubsidized infill is a far better measure of success in terms of market forces and entrepreneurial flair.

I tried fitting the dog park in there somewhere. Square pegs, round holes – you know.

As I write, the election is 19 days away, but it’s the third Tuesday in November currently holding my rapt attention.

The Green Mouse has been told by multiple sources that the most likely date for a final Board of Works vote on whether to accept Option B – the return of two way traffic on Bank, Pearl, Market, Spring and Elm – is Tuesday, November 15.

(Warren Nash wants us to know that just because the federal money is in the bag, bidding dates set and construction schedules carved on a stone tablet, it’s an insult for Irv to suggest the decision has been made. Couldn’t we trade both Warren and Irv to Birdseye for a Bud Light Lime-powered canine shampooing station to be named later?)

It’s all fairly clear to me: If my karma will indulge me, Trump will lose, two-way streets will win … and then we’ll go to Sicily over the Thanksgiving holiday to clink wine glasses and devour the grilled sardine pasta I mentioned last week.

The respite will be short, but no less appreciated for its brevity. By January, the coffee break will be over, and we’ll be back on our heads.

October 13: ON THE AVENUES: They’re coming to take me away.

October 6: ON THE AVENUES: His nose knows tolls and polls (2010).

September 29: ON THE AVENUES 3-PK, PART THREE: Survey says … Irv’s street grid agitprop won’t be putting Diogenes out of work any time soon.

September 29: ON THE AVENUES 3-PK, PART TWO: Inkem binkem notamus rex, protect us all from the city (still) with the hex (2014).