"I find it interesting you feel that a beer joint is more important to the community than the State Historical Society," wrote Albert Price, vice president and treasurer of the State Historical Society of Missouri.
Yes, that is what “Prince Albert” wrote to Mike Martin’s “Columbia Heart Beat Blog.” And it rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it is because I have been on both sides of the eminent domain argument, and it is a practice that Columbians and Missourians do not like. Just ask my speech students.
While living in Denver, I sat on three citizen committees that considered eminent domain and property condemnation. One committee selected the location of the Colorado Rockies’ current home, Coors Field. There were major economic and growth issues involved with the selection of the site and when the dust settled, all were pleased. With one exception.
The vast majority of the commercial buildings were empty and dilapidated. The neighborhood was one of economic poverty and home to too many drug sales and other street crimes. All owners were glad to sell their property to the city, except one. Not for economic reasons, the city had offered to pay 150 percent of the value of the property and to relocate him at the city’s expense. It was something more personal – it was his store and he did not like the mayor. Unfortunately, the building stood where home plate was to be located.
It took nothing less than a visit from Mayor Wellington Webb and a bit more financial incentive to grease the wheels of progress. Today, lower downtown Denver is a model for economic recovery.
The circumstances involved with the acquisition of the property for the State Historical Society is not the same. The blocks surrounding U.S. Cleaners on Elm Street and Bengals Bar and Grill on South Sixth are not dilapidated or economically deprived. There appears to be no legitimate reason for the city of Columbia to strong-arm the owners into giving up their property.
The issue of eminent domain came to a head when the U.S. Supreme Court, in Kelo v. New London, said that New London, Conn., could condemn and acquire property for private use.
In 2006, Gov. Matt Blunt signed into law provisions that negated the reasoning for the court’s ruling, at least in Missouri. More importantly, the new Missouri statute “requires a condemning authority to determine blight on a parcel-by-parcel basis rather than on an area basis.”
To paraphrase Jerry Maguire, “Show me the blight!”
There is one major reason why the city should not support the proposed eminent domain ordinance: loss of sales tax and licensing revenue. Not to mention the other companies and employment that survives because of these two small but important commercial entities. The Hysteric, sorry, Historic Society, on the other hand, is a nonprofit, nonrevenue generating, minimum impact organization that only adds … I am not sure what it adds that the cleaners and the tavern do not.
There are other locations within a few blocks of the “target location” that are ripe for redevelopment, that are reportedly not acceptable. There are locations in Jefferson City, supported by the city and a number of legislators, yet again, not acceptable.
If the anger of my students – at least one speech each term – is a fair assessment of the sentiment of the citizens of Columbia, and if the City Council votes for the condemnation, we will soon see a new council and Bill Watkins hung in effigy.
This condemnation is wrong and you, my readers, need to gather your friends and tell the council not to continue on this ill-conceived path. Now.
David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. Besides the Missourian, David is also a featured columnist for MissouriTribune.com and TRCB.com. He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.