Saturday, February 20, 2016

Rochester Agonistes: Holiday Din

The collapse Friday of Brutger Equities' plans for a $63 million hotel project across from Saint Marys Hospital was a big deal. A lot of powerful forces came together to challenge the developer, the city's planning and zoning process, city administration, the Destination Medical Center bureaucracy, and eventually the City Council's competency, and developer Larry Brutger decided he'd had enough. - Jay Furst, Furst Draft

This blog post by the managing editor of the Post-Bulletin does a pretty good job of naming the parts of a thing that happened. Most everything it concludes regarding those parts of the thing that happened is...ah...well, let's just say there's not much there that'd I'd sign on to. For one thing, this thing that happened may well be one of Rochester's finest hours and not the minor apocalypse it is being characterized as in some circles. Circles that circumscribe this piece as well.

Unless we take "apocalypse" in its original meaning as "lifting the veil" because this thing that happened is doing that for sure - renting it in twain is more like it. What worldview do we glimpse behind the veil when a private developer not getting enough public money (the TIF offer was even doubled by the city administrator) is called a "debacle"? Why is a loss of a project that would have amounted to roughly 1% of the projected public/private DMC investment so devastating?

It is really punching down to say it is not a community's finest hour when the small and the marginalized finally maybe get something like a win over the big and the well-connected.

Despite being cast as a loser in the blog post, the city council president can take some solace that it agrees with him that these neighborhood groups need to be de-legitimized.
Neighborhood associations have become organizations to reckon with in Rochester, which generally is a good thing. That said, it's reasonable to wonder whether neighborhood leaders always act in a way that reflects neighborhood interests, and how that community input dovetails with the elective process of running a city.
Well, wonder no more how that "dovetailing" works. Here's this from Chapter 6, Handbook for Minnesota Cities: "Council members have found that ignoring citizen concerns can result in their removal from office at the next election, or in the defeat of a program or activity as a result of citizen opposition."

Likewise, might we also wonder whether "[city] leaders always act in a way that reflects [city] interests"? In other reporting we learn that the city council president prefers the company of the developer over those noisome, noisy, overreaching neighborhoods, so weigh that in the balance as you wonder.

Speaking of de-legitimization: Why is it that the actions and activities of the challenger to the incumbent city council president are so often rendered suspect because he is "running for office" while the actions and activities of the incumbent are so rarely (ever?) regarded as suspect even though he is also "running for office"?

Siding with the city council president, the blog post makes one thing perfectly clear, "based on how this project was treated, that property might remain a parking lot for a while." Unless of course, as the blog post concludes "There'll be other developers and other projects, and that land across from Saint Marys won't sit vacant for long." So, in sum, this place will and will not be a parking lot for a long time. Kudos for balance there, I guess.

The blog post gets this much right: There were indeed "powerful forces" that "came together to challenge the developer, the city's planning and zoning process, city administration, the Destination Medical Center bureaucracy, and eventually the City Council's competency..." Let's hope they recall that "power" and make more use of it in the future. "Citizens who use their power to convene other citizens," writes Peter Block in Community, "are what create an alternative future."

An alternative future might just be what we need.


NOTE: A version of this post appeared first on my Facebook page.

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