Most of the time, I am a pretty big booster for our little town on the Bay. This town is a blank canvas for people with ideas to paint their dreams. Some of that, our city leaders get.
Things like NEON, they make me feel like maybe we’re right on the edge of a time when the people running the city just might see what I see: a small, vibrant city that cares more about what the people living in it think about it than it does about anyone someplace else. A town that encourages its people–of all ages, classes, races, and backgrounds–to take pride in our uniqueness and creativity.
But then, I think about our leaders the rest of the time, when they’re busy chasing major-league sports teams, or undermining civic activism, or putting together sweetheart business deals for out-of-towners or just their cronies, and it makes me sad. I still love this place, but I get why people here have a hard time feeling the pride you might find in a place like Richmond, or Austin, or Portland. It’s hard to feel pride in what makes our city unique when the powerful seem so hellbent on making everything here the same as everywhere else.
Which is why, when I read this editorial in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, I said out loud, “Daaaaaaamn, y’all.” They sure got our number, delivering a withering broadside about the convention hotel boondoggle currently being built in Downtown Norfolk out of adamantium, gold filigree, and crashed-UFO-parts (OK, you tell me why it costs $100 million and isn’t going to be done until 2017). The editorial is a response to this article from The Pilot last week. After a little bit of ribbing on The Tide (which they correctly note is at least something that the public can use), the RT-D’s editorial board lets the numbers tell the story: $100 million total, more than half paid by the City—which allows Norfolk ownership of the parking garage and convention center… but also allows Gold Key, the developer, to keep all the revenue from the convention center, womp womp; $3 million worth of prime Downtown land donated to build it; $750,000 towards a high-end restaurant in the hotel, financed by meal taxes—putting other restaurants in the City on the hook to finance their new fancy-pants competitor; and $25,000 in signage to make sure that everyone who passes by the site over the next forever years is SUPER-PUMPED about this EXCITING new hotel.
I would say this is shocking, but it’s really just the perfect crystallization of the Fraim-era of governance in Norfolk—large projects of dubious value to the public, but of significant value to a select few developers, bankers, and corporate interests, who may or may not actually live or be based in Norfolk, while other critical areas of more direct public benefit but way less sex-appeal (see also: infrastructure, schools, parks) are neglected to the point of near-breakdown. The saddest thing is that basically the same thing is going to happen at whatever garbage outlet mall they build at Lake Wright (Lake Fraim?).
Look, giveaways like convention hotels just don’t work. Don’t believe me? Check out this study (just one of many) from 2005. Norfolk pouring $50+ million in taxpayer money into something that we know isn’t going to meet a demand (because the already-existing, similarly-sized Marriott hotel down the block isn’t exactly a center of convention business) is irresponsible governance, and Norfolk’s leaders need to be held accountable for it—especially before they can commit to wasting even more of our public funds on whatever latest sweetheart deal they can put together for some private interest who wants to harvest our tax dollars.
Oh, and hey, who blew up Selden and why did that happen? According to the Pilot, it was a contractor working for the city, but that was back in May. Maybe there’s been more recent news than that, but my exhaustive (10-minute) Google searching didn’t turn it up. I guess it points to the problem, though: with such a catalog of discouragement when it comes to our city government working against us, why bother reporting on with an old jewel in our city’s crown, when there’s that sneaking suspicion… back in the back of our minds… a thought we don’t want to admit, but we all have… that when Selden comes back, whenever that is, it’s not going to be what it was… it’ll probably be all polished up and sanitized and in the guise of something else… maybe a Banana Republic?
Which, in a way, would be fitting.