Belo the Belt

Our mayor joins the Beloans to gang up on the little people

Holding out happens to be one of the privileges appertaining to private property in this country. A holdout is the contrary, in real-estate terms, of a holdup. All this business about matching sidewalks, erecting walls around the back of his building and so on, is clearly aimed at forcing Richman to sell. The plan commission wasn't buying it.

When Belo appealed the plan commission's denial to the city council, several of the council's more conservative business-oriented members, including Alan Walne, Sandy Greyson and Lois Finkelman, expressed skepticism about shutting down one lane of a downtown street in order to create matching sidewalks for Belo. Walne in particular brought up the fact that the city normally charges people thousands of dollars for even allowing awnings or signs to poke out over the right-of-way a few inches. Why would the city give the whole right-of-way to Belo for free? And for such a loony ostensible reason? Matching sidewalks? They can't do better than that? It's like the duke saying he wants a date with your daughter on her wedding night, because, "It pleatheth me."

But after the rest of the council was done expressing its skepticism, Belo's new champion on the council, Mayor Laura Miller, tongue-lashed Richman for not selling to Belo:

"They [Belo] tried to buy Mr. Richman's building," the mayor told the council, "because they wanted to have the whole block, and beautify the whole block and extend the sidewalk down the block and extend the trees down the block. It is Mr. Richman's choice to not sell this building if he doesn't want to."

She paused. She looked at Richman. She said: "Are you willing to sell your building?"

Nope.

Then Miller put a full-court press on the rest of the council and got them to overturn the plan commission and vote yes, to take away all the parking along half of one block of Record Street leading right to Richman's door. Free to Belo. No air rights. No fees. All waived.

Miller doesn't deny she has been championing Belo's cause lately, nor does she deny that this position represents a notable shift from where she stood as a council member and as an Observer columnist. She says the reason for the shift is that now she's the mayor, and as mayor she thinks it's her duty to get behind whatever makes downtown better.

"Who's the advocate for downtown?" she asked. "When you have 14 council members all fighting for their piece of the community, there's no advocate for downtown."

She concedes that a convention hotel on Belo property is a possibility. She says she has to pick horses, and right now she thinks Belo is the strongest, winningest horse for downtown. You could argue that her ability to get over past contretemps with Belo and give support to their cause shows that she is smarter and more mature than the average Observer columnist.

I don't not get that. But it still bugs me to see Belo taking on this guy--Richman--whose family has owned a piece of property downtown since the 1960s; the Potemkin Station and the talk of train lines down Jackson Street are an unsubtle threat of eminent domain to squeeze him out; and then they have the mayor beating him up in a public forum for not selling to them.

Exactly how much more of an advantage does Belo need?

By the way, I made a bad mistake in a column last week. I said a proposed park at the other end of downtown was going to cover 46 acres. I meant 4 to 6 acres. The park would be big but not nuclear. I might mention, in this vein, that the area between Belo and the West End that people are talking about turning into Beloan plazas is roughly 127 acres. Not 1 or 2 or 7 acres, but 127.

Yikes. A hundred and twenty-seven acres of matching sidewalks. But let me ask you something. Sincerely. Why do we want to make downtown look like a shopping mall?

Downtown was cool when it had funky little Greek cafeterias in basements, when it had Sol's Turf Bar and the Point, street preachers and cops in riding breeches--the little incongruities and anomalies that make a city cool. Downtown's not dead now because it isn't scrubby enough. It's dead because the yo-yos who developed everything in the '80s scraped off all the texture. Who wants to go? It's got all the charm of Siberia.

Matching sidewalks, indeed. Anyway, that's a made-up reason. Why does Belo really want plazas, a hotel, a transit station and no more Marc Richman?

"It pleatheth me."

Apparently it pleatheth the mayor now, too.

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