Saturday, November 9, 2013

LFUCG To Get A "New" Building?

The Mayor has a plan to build a new city hall. Just like the previous administration and the one before that. Actually, such plans have been around since the birth of the LFUCG.

The Gray administration says that it sees the need, or “a” need to build a new city hall. The cost of necessary repairs is set at $6.3 million, which looks to be down from the $30 million cited during the Newberry days. Important government offices are currently spread between several buildings and along what should be “prime” Main Street frontage. What I think is the greatest need is that an aging hotel should never have been made into an office building in the first place.

I can remember back when Lexington was preparing to bring the City and County governments together, a contingent of local officials took a trip to Indianapolis, itself recently merged, for ideas and examples. First off, there was a new 25 story government center from which to guide all services – Lexington did not take that track.

That is not to say that we did not look at doing so, because we did do a space study on all of the buildings then in use by government. How and where to join the police and fire departments. Bringing the streets and roads folks together. And then there was the expanding administrative staff just to pull it all off. We needed one building but it would have to wait.

Recall that this was less than a dozen years after Urban Renewal and downtown blocks were being developed by others (we had the new Rupp Arena complex to prepare and complete) like Garvice Kinkaid and Kentucky Central Insurance. Their new building would leave a vacant former hotel available and Lexington took an option on it while researching a new complex in the Rose/Main/Vine triangle.

One year later, hoping to get their own new building, the city sold the property to Ashland Oil and their Valvoline subsidiary for an interim space. Alas, no new space was forthcoming for the city and they again looked at the aging, inadequately altered hotel before finally buying it in 1982.

Early on in the LFUCG's occupancy it began to show just how much the building was aging. The air conditioning cooling tower on the roof caught fire on workday and that prompted a review of all safety and evacuation measures. Roofing leaks and other system overhauls became more and more common. Fire alarms and stuck elevators were a weekly occurrence. Meeting and providing service to the public proved challenging.

It seems to me that high interest rates, inflation or recession have been highly prevalent during or immediately after discussions of a new city hall come to light. In times of true government surpluses, it looks to me that there was no discussion of a new government home place.

Forty years down the road from the beginning of merger and the prospects of a modern, fully functional office building seem no closer than in 1974.

The move of Lexington's Municipal Building from 136 Walnut St to Main St did not cause the decline in viable storefront businesses but it could not halt it either. It may have been the implementation of one-way streets through downtown or simply the lure of suburban free parking for the retail, but the foot traffic has gone. The Mayor sees this latest move as a way to revitalize this block.

A claim has been put forth that the city “monopolizes” 200 feet or more of prime retail space on that one block, yet the remainder of the storefronts there have the primary entrance onto Water St, a sidewalk-less wide alleyway. Even the electronics store, Barney Miller's, easily the most active retail location on that side of the street, has most customers enter from the rear. If I recall correctly, it was the heralded conversion from retail to office of the Wolf Wile building by Gray Construction that kicked off this trend.

The Chase bank building, when built as the new home of First Security Bank, wiped out an entire block of older (and maybe historic) structures which contained viable retail spaces. Nary a word was raised in protest if I recall and Phoenix Park held three good sized retail establishments in the old hotel building. All of that “prime retail” Main St space gone and the general public seems to be fighting the ability of CentrePointe to try to re-establish it.

If the City is successful this time and a new government center is raised atop one side of the Lextran garage, will the main entry come off of E. High St or Martin Luther King? Will we see a more traditionally styled city hall or a modern take like Toronto, Ca.? In a project of such a civic nature will we have as much controversy over the look of the building as we have had on CentrePointe? Only time will tell.

One last observation. In the ongoing discussions about bringing the University and downtown closer together, is this the next move since the University has begun the massive dorm project a little more than a block away?

Parts of downtown are flourishing and other parts are taking note and learning. As has been pointed out here and elsewhere, the growing, revitalization of Lexington's downtown is not government led. It may be that efforts of government control can hinder the natural course of what Lexington residents and business owners can accomplish on their own.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

More on "Black Boxes"

Nearly a year ago I blogged about the upcoming rules for “event data recorders” in automobiles and some of the rousing comments that I had seen. Just last week it was the LA Times's turn to go beating the beehive with a broomstick and with an eerily similar title. The comments that they received (some are given below) are wildly amusing.

Cash-strapped communities and states are looking for new ways of generating revenue to repair and expand the crumbling highway system without appearing to raise taxes. The income from our present federal gas tax structure, set at 18.4 cents per gallon over 20 year ago, will not keep pace with the rate of decay seen in our roads and bridges. Kentucky's gas tax rate is tied to the rate of inflation but even that is falling behind. These states are now looking at a vehicle-miles-traveled or VMT structure to REPLACE the gas tax.

The reaction of the Tea Party is predictable and the American Civil Liberties Union is nearly beside itself raising a variety of privacy issues. Mostly, the complaints are concerning the ability of a government to monitor and track any individual's movements on a 24-7-365 basis. Are they not the same high-tech customers who will wait in line for hours to get the latest smart phone for the wi-fi connectivity and connectedness which lies at the root of this monitoring technology?

In fact, they are the savvy consumer who has found an automobile which get amazing gas mileage and comes equipped with the OnStar or Sync service as an anti-theft device. They are the drivers who utilize the Sirius radio and Pandora streaming music service, linked with Bluetooth. Are they even aware that those packages are what Google employs to determine real-time traffic counts? State DOT”s are not that well connected.

Like many other subjects, Congress cannot agree on whether to proceed in this direction. The Senate had approved a trial project but he House leadership killed it (anybody surprised?) despite two former U.S. Transportation secretaries urging for it. But, without federal guidance it is left to the states to move forward and some are doing so. Oregon, Nevada, Illinois and the states which are members of the I-95 Coalition along the Eastern Seaboard together with New York City are studying how the change may be made.

Are you like one of those residents from Oregon who will opt instead to pay a flat fee based on the average number of miles driven by all state residents rather that a recording device. Not quite fair to the urban dweller who seldom drives but has to pay near what the suburbanite or rural farmer drives.

Maybe you are an app happy Gen Xer who is looking for a device to ease all of your driving woes. Not just keeping track of your miles driven, but in which part of your metro area you traveled. It also finds the closest, cheapest parking meter, pays for it and may have “reserve” it until you can get through the last traffic light. That may save you the price of a gallon of gas.

The problem (or solution) is that this is very doable with current technology, and could be put in place very quietly. If they need money to fix the roads then raise the gas tax. It isn't that I don't want Big Brother knowing where I go (even if I don't). It's that where I go is none of his damn business.
Such tools do not belong in a free state.” Ronald Baker

This sounds like a very American thing to say, that we do not want any semblance of Big Brother unless it is on network TV. The facts are that such tools have been developed and used by the corporate world for a much more sinister use than government surveillance. The monetary cost of business surveillance far exceeds the individual's supposed additional tax burden.

Currently, a Prius driver pays less in gas taxes than a Hummer driver over the same mileage. This is exceptionally fair because a lighter Prius does less damage to the road and pollutes less.
Changing to a miles-driven tax system makes so little sense that the tea party and the ACLU are united in opposition. It would raise taxes, cost a lot to develop and create a government database of information about our driving habits.
What is there to like about this?” Terrence R. Dunn

Yes, the Prius driver does pay less and a Tesla driver pays nothing but they both need the roads and bridges to be there regardless of damage or pollution. Mr. Dunn, the system already exists and does not need to be developed.

Corporations to which you already pay tribute have a current database of your driving habits. They already know when you stop at the coffee drive thru on the way to work or the bar on the way home. They are profiting from such information and you are willingly giving it to them.

What the governments would like to know is if you are driving in their jurisdiction or somewhere else. If you live (and buy gas) in Northern Ky. and do 85% of your driving in Cincinnati, then the state of Ohio is unable to anticipate your road usage, or vice versa.

Ah, so very nice for the entrepreneurs to do the work of the government for it. I have absolutely no desire to have my whereabouts and comings and goings tracked.
If Ryan Morrison, chief executive of the California start-up developing a vehicle black box had thought this through, he would have seen the error in his approach. Trusting the government not to overreach and spy is naive.
Instead of thinking of the money they could be making, CEOs like Morrison should consider the large-scale impacts they could have on their fellow Americans.”
Chris Sarvis
Does anyone see a pattern here? It is always the government that is doing the overreaching or spying. Is there no one who believes that the corporations are not reaching for more than they may be entitled? At a time when the 1 (or 2)% are looking for more money from you packet, so many of the naïve are willing to believe that it is the government which may be in the wrong.

The time is approaching when the Departments of Transportation in many states (some very near Kentucky) will begin to allow some lesser traveled roads to revert to gravel or dirt roads. The funding will not be available to continue maintenance duties in addition to the responsibilities toward our primary traffic routes. Our city's struggles on paving issues grow larger each passing year, so we will all have to find a workable solution.

Is your expectation of privacy in regard to mobility, that which you seem to willingly give to corporations, greater than your expectations for receiving adequate transportation facilities? The answer here may shock many people.