ON THE AVENUES: Said the spider to the fly — will you please take a slice of Reisz?


ON THE AVENUES: Said the spider to the fly — will you please take a slice of Reisz?

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

“Will you walk into my parlour?” said the Spider to the Fly,
‘Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I’ve a many curious things to show when you are there.”

“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can never come down again.”
“I’m sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high;
Will you rest upon my little bed?” said the Spider to the Fly.
“There are pretty curtains drawn around; the sheets are fine and thin,
And if you like to rest awhile, I’ll snugly tuck you in!”

“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “for I’ve often heard it said,
They never, never wake again, who sleep upon your bed!”

“Let’s spend millions to make government more luxurious.”

Said not one taxpayer, in New Albany … ever.

That’s why the officially sanctioned City Hall plot line for the Reisz Elephant has focused on the prerequisites of historic preservation.

The obvious problem with this approach is that Jeff Gahan’s fervent and impassioned public commitment to historic preservation resembles a tattered Halloween costume, to be pulled from the bag of tricks only once each year when the mayor’s internal campaign finance abacus indicates there may be something in “preservation” for him.

Namely, preserving and expanding his paranoia, and his power.

Haughey’s Place was just as historic as Reisz, and Gahan swept the former tavern away in spite of a solid plan to “save” it. Two new gingerbread houses, holding precisely the same number of occupants as a potentially refurbished Haughey’s, apparently were deemed brighter, shinier objects, at least in the mayor’s inner world of glitz over substance.

So it is that Gahan proposes a $10,000,000 expenditure over 15 years for the renovation of the Reisz Furniture Store into a new luxury location for city hall.

Knowing that plusher government sells about as well as warm Bud Light, Team Gahan’s selling point for the Reisz conversion continues to be those very merits of “historic preservation” he’s ignored so consistently in the past.

Let’s face it. Socially and culturally, Gahan and his sycophants are no better versed than the ordinary Communist Party hacks of old, shipped falling-down shit-faced from Outer Siberia to Moscow to be strapped to the mausoleum siding, lest they fall over it, and to view the May Day parade alongside Comrade Brezhnev.

When they so much as hear the word “art,” they reach for their anchors.

However, when it comes to manipulating an intricately designed system of pure political patronage; Gahan is a veritable LeBron James, the reigning master of top-down, down-low, triple-doubled-up lubrication by means of old-school hard cash.

First and foremost, the Reisz Elephant serves a dual purpose for Gahan. It provides an escape route from shared space at the City-County Building, furthering the mayor’s overarching goal of building a wall between city and county government — and making Mark Seabrook pay for it.

From the moment of Gahan’s accession to itty-bitty-pond power, he has maneuvered to forestall any conceivable manifestation of uni-gov, great or small, because the Democratic Party’s last remaining power base is municipal, and for the political patronage dollars to keep flowing, the fortress must be protected at any cost.

It isn’t exactly a coincidence that Republican at-large councilman David Barksdale feels historic preservation is so important that the Reisz building must be saved … at any cost.

Said the cunning Spider to the Fly, “Dear friend what can I do,
To prove the warm affection I’ve always felt for you?
I have within my pantry, good store of all that’s nice;
I’m sure you’re very welcome — will you please to take a slice?”

“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “kind Sir, that cannot be,
I’ve heard what’s in your pantry, and I do not wish to see!”

Faced with the need to procure a fifth council vote for the Reisz extravagance, Gahan knew that Barksdale’s legendary tunnel vision not only facilitates the mayor’s anti-county disruption tactics, but adds the indescribably sweet element of an otherwise detested Republican voting against his own party’s interests.

Unfortunately, Barksdale’s propensity for micromanaging tree seedling varieties (shade is secondary to the visibility of buildings from the vantage point of passing cars) and parsing IKEA furniture choices for streetside beautification projects better suited to suburban outlet malls (recently a downtown business owner was overheard to say, “If Barksdale doesn’t leave me alone, I’m going to board up my windows out of spite) suggests that he’s missing a bigger picture.

And the wider aims of historic preservation might well suffer for it.

Last August, it was evident that Gahan had artfully enticed the local historic preservation contingent by dangling the renovation of the former Baity Funeral Home on State Street, with a relatively inexpensive municipal tithe of $50,000 to leverage the fire-damaged building into headquarters for Indiana Landmarks (currently situated in Jeffersonville).

Of course, a finger in Jeffersonville Mike Moore’s eye always is a nice bonus.

With preservationists properly baited, the hook was easily set. There’s nothing controversial about the Baity renovation, while every last detail of the Reisz transaction is a journey into the ethics-free morass of self-interested Gahanism, thus the necessity of snaring Barksdale, presently leading a brigade of well-intentioned historic preservationists into a proxy war to defend Gahan’s political imperatives.

Because: these imperatives are all the Reisz Elephant has. Take away the politics, and Keeneland’s just another race track.

“Sweet creature!” said the Spider, “you’re witty and you’re wise,
How handsome are your gauzy wings, how brilliant are your eyes!
I’ve a little looking-glass upon my parlour shelf,
If you’ll step in one moment, dear, you shall behold yourself.”

“I thank you, gentle sir,” he said, “for what you’re pleased to say,
And bidding you good morning now, I’ll call another day.”

The Spider turned him round about, and went into his den,
For well he knew the silly Fly would soon come back again:
So he wove a subtle web, in a little corner sly,
And set his table ready, to dine upon the Fly.

As an example, there is a potentially strong case for Reisz’s redemption according to historic preservation in a context of economic development. Team Gahan is aware of the subject heading, if not the entire essay, and has espoused it in connection with Reisz.

But the particulars of Gahan’s Reisz methodology largely negate the case for “ripple effect” economic development. The Reisz Elephant itself is a stodgy, embellishment-free warehouse. Passing traffic on the interstate won’t be diverting to view government offices in a warehouse.

And, as a government building, Reisz will be removed from the tax rolls. Precisely the same number of employees will be shifted three blocks, which is a wash economically, although they’ll pick up a few Fitbit steps by walking an extra block back for lunch at the Hitching Post.

In short, Barksdale’s current political coordinates – and by extension, historic preservation’s hard-earned credibility – can be viewed as resting dead center at the bottom of Gahan’s squalid political sewer.

Then he came out to his door again, and merrily did sing,
“Come hither, hither, pretty Fly, with the pearl and silver wing;
Your robes are green and purple — there’s a crest upon your head;
Your eyes are like the diamond bright, but mine are dull as lead!”

Alas, alas! how very soon this silly little Fly,
Hearing his wily, flattering words, came slowly flitting by;
With buzzing wings he hung aloft, then near and nearer drew,
Thinking only of his brilliant eyes, and green and purple hue —
Thinking only of her crested head — poor foolish thing!
At last,
Up jumped the cunning Spider, and fiercely held him fast.
He dragged him up his winding stair, into his dismal den,
Within his little parlour — but he ne’er came out again!

The Reisz at any cost? Barksdale and his cohorts might first have considered the price of co-option. Our elders were astute when they observed that when you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.

As it stands, the Godfather’s unctuous corporate counsel Shane Gibson has defined the ruling clique’s terms: either Don Gahan’s way or the landfill. It’s a threat aimed squarely at Barksdale and the co-opted historic preservationists, who now must play the roles scripted for them, or else.

Hear me now: This is a bluff, and it’s utter bullshit.

At Wednesday’s public meeting, 6th district independent councilman Scott Blair repeated that it isn’t too late to make sense of the muddle. There are alternatives and options.

In Blair’s view, the most rational course forward for the city of New Albany, having already invested in $750,000 to Denton Floyd by handing the real estate company a check contrived by a secret protocol known only to the upper echelons, is to invest in the Reisz building’s stabilization and remarketing.

Then, the city’s “skin in the same” would be an investment of roughly $1,250,000 in a building that most of us would like to save, a level playing field, and subsequently, the platform for truly fair bidding process. After all, lots of contractors would have been “interested” in submitting Reisz proposals had they been offered the sweetheart deal proffered to Denton Floyd.

The pause also gives downtown stakeholders a chance to participate in the conceptualization, rather than restricting it to Gahan and two of his closest cronies. Isn’t the “free” market supposed to be about a multiplicity of ideas, not just one preferred option?

As Blair points out, the city already owns property on the southwest corner of Main and Pearl, where a parking garage once stood. A made-to-spec city hall could be built there for far less than the anticipated Reisz payments, and with Reisz renovated by the private sector, it would remain on the tax rolls and actually fulfill the economic development arguments at the heart of judicious historic preservation.

The only reason why Blair’s sensible proposals are being stonewalled is the intransigence of Gahan … and Barksdale.

Their fix is in, their timetables are set, and the tragedy of this whole story is that Barksdale, who means well, doesn’t understand the extent to which he’s being used by an egocentric and inveterate manipulator.

Consequently, historic preservationists might get their chosen building, but by hitching the wagon to Gahan’s unrestrained cult of personality, they risk being cast into the wilderness barring a solitary outcome of next year’s election: namely, the mayor’s re-election.

That’s too bad.

It’s not too late to fix the fix, but first, one of five council members currently dedicated to Dear Leader’s enrichment must put his foot on the brake.

By all rights it should be Barksdale, shouldn’t it?

And now dear little children, who may this story read,
To idle, silly flattering words, I pray you ne’er give heed:
Unto an evil counsellor, close heart and ear and eye,
And take a lesson from this tale, of the Spider and the Fly.

Mary Howitt wrote the The Spider and the Fly. This search takes you to articles at NA Confidential about the proposed Reisz project. The final vote is Monday. You’re advised to contact your councilman (there are no women) and make your viewpoint known.

Recent columns:

June 21: ON THE AVENUES: Government Lives Matter, so it’s $10,000,000 for Gahan’s luxury city hall clique enhancement. Happy dumpster diving, peasants!

June 12: ON THE AVENUES: Histrionic preservation? $8.5 million to gift Jeff Gahan with a luxury city hall “want” is simply obscene in a time of societal need.

June 7: ON THE AVENUES: Taco Bell has as much to do with “local business” as Jeff Gahan does with “quality urban design principles.”

There was no column on May 31.