About this new Downtown Facade Improvement program … our interest in the topic goes all the way back to 2004.


Scroll down for the reprint of an article I penned in 2004, shortly after this blog’s inception. Things have changed … and they’ve stayed the same.

First, here is the city’s description of the rationale for new downtown facade improvements, as revealed for the first time last Tuesday.

Downtown Facade Improvements

New Albany has a plethora of beautiful, historic buildings in its downtown. Unfortunately, over the years, some of these buildings have had windows shuttered and closed off, original brick walls painted over, and historic character lost. Some buildings have even been painted together to appear as one structure. This project will seek to revitalize, refurbish, and redevelop buildings and facades in the downtown area, reinvigorating these historic strcutures to their original historic look, including improved windows and uncovered original brickwork.

It should be noted that for a very long time, the Urban Enterprise Association has had a successful facade improvement matching grant program. The announcement on Tuesday seems to hint at an expansion of it, and yet obviously the paragraph above seems written to describe Schmitt Furniture, above all others.

The devil’s always in the details, and this new program will be no exception. It doesn’t mean I oppose it. Rather, I need to see the fine print. We all do.

There are other examples, of course.

Then there are these piles.

Prescient readers will note that on Tuesday, the city of New Albany accepted $5 million dollars of seed money from the Horseshoe Foundation and tied the grant to projects advocated by this blog for a number of years.

We’re delighted to have been so far ahead of the curve in a conceptual sense, though it remains to be seen what percentage of the total required for these projects that $5 million proves to be — most or only some?

It remains that we’ve supported the Greenway, the use of Loop Island Wetlands, and the clean -up of QRS (Riverside) Recycling.

We’ve praised the potential of the under-utilized amphitheater, and wondered why something couldn’t be done about the horrendously neglected overlook structure.

We’ve pushed the idea of narrowed, two-way streets and enhanced walkability, as on the two blocks of Market from State to Pearl.

And, since the beginning, we’ve sought adaptive reuse. These past 12 years, many windows (and their buildings) have benefited from restoration as entrepreneurs put their money where their aspirations are, and downtown has come a long way as a result.

This is a very important point.

TIF bonds and similar corporate welfare subsidies have been largely absent from these privately impelled improvements. On Tuesday, the mayor had not one word to say about private investment, only the many ways the city itself takes credit for what has happened.

This was shortsighted. It’s inaccurate. Still, in spite of Gahan’s ineptitude, this new facade grant program, whatever its shape, might prove to be a good thing. However, it also has the potential to be controversial, especially if there is any hint of favoritism.

Consequently, I’d suggest that Team Gahan spend more time than it usually does making sure that downtown’s stakeholders understand what’s happening and why.
Is that too much to ask? Now it’s back to November 22, 2004.

Windowless views of Scribner Place

As previously noted, I attended the outdoor press conference in early October during which New Albany Mayor James Garner unveiled plans for Phase I of the Scribner Place downtown redevelopment project.

Envisioned by Garner’s predecessor as a bold stroke on a grand scale, the Scribner Place project has been subjected by the incoming regime to a stringent editing process that has left much of the original proposal on the cutting room floor.

All portions of the Scribner Place plan that might require heavy lifting (i.e., hotel, retail, condominiums) have been discarded or deferred, rendering it fiscally responsible and far better suited to the current administration’s signature lack of imagination.

The YMCA, swimming center and parking garage slated for the first phase can be financed in large measure by annually mandated guilt abatement kickbacks from Caesar’s Indiana, whose million-a-day gross continually reminds us (a) that we’re all in the wrong business, and (b) that ordinary people are incredibly stupid.

In a press conference replete with unintentional humor, one of the funniest moments came when a representative of the Louisville media grew tired of waiting for the New Albany Tribune’s Amany Ali to ask a significant question and quizzed Mayor Garner as to his comments to the effect that that Scribner Place would bring people to live downtown.

With no housing plan in sight, where will these new residents live?

A confused Garner could do no more than mumble and point to the perennially unoccupied second and third floors of nearby buildings as if to suggest that their owners would miraculously see the light after decades of willful negligence and begin creating condos overnight.

It so happens that one of the structures standing behind Garner was the majestic Schmitt Furniture building, which hasn’t had windows above the ground floor since some time during the Johnson administration. In fact, on the entire length of the Schmitt Furniture block running along Main Street, there are no windows above the ground floor on any of the buildings.

If anyone is to live there, they’ll not be enjoying a very good view of Scriber Place.

During his speech, Garner insisted that the citizens pf New Albany should be thankful for certain “families” (among them the owners of Schmitt Furniture) who agreed to sell their properties to make space for the Scribner Place project.

These properties, located between Main Street and the flood wall, contain warehouses of no architectural value built atop brownfield areas where forges and other 19th-century industrial enterprises once operated.

So, if we are to believe Garner, families running businesses in buildings without windows, and who sell virtually worthless properties in need of some measure of toxic clean-up to the city at somewhere close to market value are patriotic.

Opportunistic businessmen, perhaps. Patriots? Name a street after them, and get on with it.