July 7 -- To the Editor:
Two prominent and highly respected local figures of the Old Guard — attorney Paul McEachern and State Senator Martha Fuller Clark — are throwing their respective weight and expertise behind an attempt to scuttle the McIntyre project, which in its present form will cost taxpayers zilch. The project is a result of collaboration between City, residents (through an extensive public input process) and the chosen developer. The City and developer formed a public-private partnership: the developer gets a viable business model while guaranteeing us public benefits. The current design provides over 40% of the site’s space for public use, including a year-round indoor community atrium.
McEachern was just quoted in the Herald as saying the current design would “drastically change the downtown, destroying the essential character of the Historic District.” What on earth? If he is serious, I really question his judgment. The proposed new buildings facing Bow Street (most affected by the project) will stand on what is now a large asphalt car-park with a row of disused loading docks. Any reasonable person with only a cursory knowledge of architecture (full disclosure: I studied the subject) who examines the proposed design — even if they oppose the project for other reasons — will see a façade that reflects back at the existing side of the street its own historic character. Evidence of this is in the materials available online on the City’s project web site. If McEachern is not serious and is simply using inflammatory and hyperbolic language to further stoke up outrage, then his approach is both tactical and cynical. To date, I have yet to hear any of the opponents’ leaders even slightly acknowledge or concede that some aspects of the current design may have public benefit. That’s the way these people think: we’re absolutely right; you’re absolutely wrong. You want to destroy the City’s character; we’re here to save it.
Fuller Clark is harder to fathom. I know she believes the City should have bought the site long ago, at taxpayer expense, because she told me so several years ago. I also gather she would like “more contemporary” structures. As it happens, so would I. But I participated in a long public input process that resulted in something different: a modern design with historic themes. I respected the work everyone did and accepted the result. It surprises me then that Fuller Clark — a leading Democrat — is showing so little respect for the process the City, its informed and engaged residents, and developer have completed. The State Senator’s job, I believe, is to represent all the City’s residents and to work for the public good. She may believe she is, but surely it is not her job to use her skills and influence to support the work of a small group of prominent opponents, however convinced they are that they have the answers. If I question McEachern’s architectural judgment, then in this case I question Fuller Clark’s political integrity.
The other key party working behind the scenes with both energy and funding is an aggrieved developer whose plan the City rejected, Michael Simchik. He was one of a number of potential developers who responded to the City’s request for designs. He created a plan but, because he failed to meet the City’s stated criteria, he chose not to submit it. He complained at the time that the City’s process was “flawed.” I thought so too, but not to the extent that the process was no longer viable or able to produce a satisfactory project. Simchik’s design included a larger area of so-called “green space” and a hotel (something absolutely nobody wanted).
As a taxpayer I want the City to get the McIntyre site for free. Given all the design constraints I’m happy with a good and decent design, certainly one head and shoulders above Portwalk. But this small influential group of opponents wants to sabotage the deal by making an end run around the work of the project’s participants and decisions arrived at through the City’s formal processes. And to do what exactly?
If you remember the lead-up to the Iraq War, you’ll remember the President, with Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, came up with creative new justifications for the impending war almost every week. The McIntyre opponents remind me of that. First it’s “the Council hasn’t listened to the people” (you know, the ones watching TV at home while the public input meetings were happening), then it’s “we want a park, parking, and Post Office,” then it’s “blame the City for the departure of the Post Office,” then it’s “we want to start the entire process all over again,” then it’s “we want to change the zoning,” then it’s “the project will destroy the Historic District and heart of the City forever,” and now it’s “we want the Federal Government to let us consult on the project.” As each ploy to block progress fails, they come up with a new one. In so far as their activities require time and resources from the City, they’re already costing us tax dollars.
Their effort isn’t about what’s good for the City (it’s a given that we all love our City); it’s about imposing what they think is good for the rest of us and saving us from whatever “harmful effects” they can cook up. And this in spite of the work of a top-notch team of architects and decisions of our elected council and formal boards. It’s quite possible I have misunderstood their thinking or intentions. If so, I welcome their response in this newspaper.