LETTER: 'Underdeveloped imaginations'

To The Telegram, Today, my thoughts flashed back to last September when Tom Misco presented his Palace Theater proposal to the City Council. My mind replayed Tom's follow-up pledge of continued interest in the project if the Friends of Superior w...

To The Telegram,

Today, my thoughts flashed back to last September when Tom Misco presented his Palace Theater proposal to the City Council. My mind replayed Tom's follow-up pledge of continued interest in the project if the Friends of Superior were able to save the historic building. Tom loved theaters. And he loved welcoming people to his theater every night, providing refreshments and entertainment. But when I opened the Telegram, I was jolted back to the present and the reality that Tom Misco will never be welcoming anyone to the Palace Theater in Superior.

The last time I drove by that site, I saw a young woman, like a curious mourner, awkwardly negotiating a pile of bricks and rebar to get a better look at the newly dug, grave-like chasm created by the wrecking ball. And I wondered why last year the city's Safety Committee had wanted to demolish the Carnegie Library because it sported graffiti and once had a fire in the basement. Yet, that same city committee did not prevent the general public from accessing the hazardous Palace demolition zone.

As the holiday season approaches and the first layer of this winter's snow covers the pavement -- and now the rubble, I think of the site in which the city has invested nearly $400,000 of taxpayers' money. To create a green "space with benches and a few trees where residents from the surrounding neighborhood could gather ... benefiting low- and moderate-income neighbors," the Telegram reports. What about a theater where those same neighbors could gather year round? Do we need green space so badly that taxpayers would budget $400,000 for it? We may have a New York building, but that does not make us New York. Green space abounds in Superior, a city located on the shores of the Great Lake that echoes its name.

Of course, that money was not supposed to be the taxpayers' money; it was to be Community Development Block Grant money. (Although, it occurs to me, that is still taxpayers' money -- it just comes instead from the federal taxes we all pay). Our city is entitled to just under $900,000 of CDBG money each year, primarily to benefit moderate- to low-income citizens. If this is your entitlement as a citizen of Superior, would you choose to spend it to buy the Odyssey and the End Zone? That's what our city leaders thought was best.


The Telegram reports that HUD's CDBG program now won't reimburse the taxpayers for the two taverns: "city councilors opted to withdraw their CDBG request to cover the expense of buying the two bars" (which means we did buy those bars with our own tax dollars, after all). Why did the Council pull their request for the grant money? They had no choice. When the mayor ordered the Palace demolished -- while HUD warnings against such action still loomed over the city -- the federal money for that project fell away with the first strike of the wrecking ball.

So where are we now? The city said it would use the money lost for the tavern project to buy a building to shelter victims of domestic abuse. That sounded like a worthy project. But now the council says that would cost taxpayers too much money. That must mean the CDBG money really hadn't been moved to another project? Seems like the city got some good press for doing something they really hadn't done.

The Telegram reported that city officials are uncertain of how they will redevelop the area around the Palace. BID Director Kaye Tenerelli, who opposed the Misco proposal, now refers to the site's future like this: "Have we dreamed and said this is what we want to see on it? No."

No? What is good planning if it is not envisioning what you want on a site before you tear something down? Do our city leaders have such underdeveloped imaginations that they have to demolish buildings to picture what a space would look like if it were empty? A quotable Telegram quote from our city planner, "We've really got something here ... We've got a really large piece of property." A computer-generated picture of the site with the Palace and the Odyssey and the End Zone electronically bleeped out could have given us that. We didn't have to spend thousands of dollars to tear down these buildings to show a future developer what this "fresh slate" would look like.

"No specific plans," the heading in the Telegram article cries out. "No plan was ever devised ... there are no specific proposals...," touts the article. "We might have to settle for whichever development falls into our lap," suggests the same day's editorial. What??

And Ms. Tenerelli wants to do "a full-scale market study for the BID, and that will help identify what we need, what will work...." At what additional cost to the taxpayers? I thought the city's leaders had a handle on what would and wouldn't work when they rejected Tom Misco's plan and sent him packing. Now they don't?

The mayor, however, seems to have some thoughts on the subject, though he confesses, "I'm not a historian." He observes, "We have a hodge-podge of buildings ... some built in the 40s ... some built in the 1890s. There wasn't any consistency in the last 100 years." However, an article appearing in Oct. 29, 2006, issue of Business North characterizes this same phenomenon differently: "An architectural legacy remains from the region's rapid growth in wealth and population from 1880 to 1920." Respected area architect Robert Hewitt points out that different styles are desirable: "We have an incredible eclectic resource of historic buildings. ... Most people don't realize what's here at their doorstep. Little by little they're realizing it." How many more historic buildings will our leaders sacrifice in the name of "consistency" before they realize the irreparable harm they are inflicting on our community?

When I ponder the rubble that once was the Palace, I'm haunted by the words Tom Misco used to respond to questions about the damage caused by the city's lack of stewardship: "It didn't have to be ... It didn't have to be."


-- Kris Fisher, Friends of Superior

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