Thursday, October 21, 2010

Well, THAT was interesting!

I've actually had a busy week, when I'm not in over my head at my new job, (well, not in over my head, but the analogy of having the similar feeling to that of a gentleman who is a below the knee amputee at a contest where kicking the posteriors of others comes to mind) I've gone to a Planning Commission Work Session, a community meeting of the Historical Preservation Task Force, (thanks for coming out to THAT West Chester...said sarcastically) and finally tonight the Turk's Head Stadium Alliance presentation at the Charles A Melton Arts and Education Center.

Now I'm sure like you, although the idea of a Baseball Stadium in West Chester has been buzzing around the borough for about 5 years, it seems like only recently has there been a burst of activity in the last couple of weeks, when there was an impromptu, and perhaps ill advised press conference about how the Philadelphia Phillies, a local athletic club of some renown I'm led to believe, is ready to commit to coming to West Chester with one of their Minor League organizations.  This led many to immediately man the redoubts and take position, because one had the feeling that one might get run over by this steam roller express and not have a say in it before thousands of people come traipsing through our sleepy, innocent little burg.

Well, as it turns out, we are nowhere near that happening anytime soon, if my year or so on Borough planning commission has taught me anything.  If the Borough is going to get involved in purchasing land from the current owner, and then leasing out to a tenant, in this case the ball club, a LOT has to happen first.

As for tonight's meeting, I'm not sure I saw it coming, but I suppose it could have been predicted.  You had sitting at a table, in 3 chairs facing a group of about 30 people, 3 very nice looking, elderly, white AND white haired gentlemen. One, was the owner of a local sporting goods establishment, the other, a man who has when they say, "Baseball is my life", really made it his life, being a player in High School, College, and the Pros, as well as in executive positions with many teams and as a consultant in bringing Minor Leagues to towns across the USA.  Now normally the race of these I'm sure fine and upstanding men wouldn't even be used as an adjective under normal circumstances, but sitting across from them were the actual residents of the community in which this stadium might be built, right smack in the middle of a historically African American Community.

This Dr. Killenger (not LBJ BTW)
From the moment it began, these men spoke in what I'm positive was a heartfelt place, about a passion for the sport, and a passion for the town.  They dropped names of teams played for, coaches they worked for (You played for Doc Killinger? Really? The black garbed, "villain consultant" with the Henry Kissenger-esq accent from the Venture Brothers? Oh, not him, some other guy, oh never mind then, that's just me watching way to much Adult Swim.)

Not This Dr. Killenger

The problem was as I saw it, was that these gentlemen, all in their 70's in age, were not connecting to this audience.  As the murmurs grew while they spoke of alleged benefits to the community most effected, you could tell the speakers weren't picking up on it.  That's why they seemed so unprepared to deal with unleashed fury of a community that felt neglected.

In the words of some people, "our kids have nothing to do" "somebody came and broke all the side view mirrors on our cars parked on the street last night" and "we didn't even get the snow shoveled out during the last storm", true, non-sequitor statements given the agenda of the meeting but none the less, it felt like, and I say this as an observer, so who knows if I got it right, but that "maybe this project was just another thing that old white guys are trying to dump in our laps"

So, we all know what NIMBY is right?  Not In My Back Yard?  Well, there are a lot of people who would love to have this in their back yard.  I know for a personal fact that the residents near 1060 West Addison Avenue in Chicago around Wrigley Field don't seem to mind much at all, in fact they love it.

So why the hostility tonight?

The truth is I think a lot of the initial frustration with this project, despite what some might say about how it seemed to be gathering steam in the shadows, despite what some might say about where the money is going to come from, is that people are projecting the current problems of the borough on to project thinking that somehow the project will magnify these issues a hundred fold.  Now of course who knows, maybe it will destroy property values, tax rates will skyrocket, and quality of life will diminish, EVEN MORE for a certain sector of the community who've historically had it rough all along. (You think all those chemical companies and trucking companies are there for no particular reason?)

What made it worse I have to say, was how these gentlemen, goodnatured all I'm sure, were just unprepared for it.  Unprepared in that they had no numbers on taxes, traffic flows, foot traffic, revenues, policing needs, light pollution, noise pollution, on and on and on.  Furthermore they seemed to want to push away from that subject, as if they only were the group brining an idea and matching it with the decision makers in the community, and weren't otherwise responsible for working out the details.  While that maybe true, one might want to do a little advertising first, solicit ideas, have some numbers for people to mull over, before presenting something that looks like it might break ground next spring.  That is in fact what's so troubling, it's no where near ready to go, but they were very clumsy in trying to get that fact across.

They did talk about 125 jobs, they did talk about a all year long, 100 seat indoor auditorium for lectures and college classes, they did talk about giving the kids something to do via free tickets from local churches, they talked about Halloween parades at the park and New Years Eve celebrations with fireworks, they did talk about how it might seriously help get the SEPTA R3 West Chester line back to the borough, they even talked about how the Chester County Pops Orchestra needed a place to call home, but they just didn't have much else.

Add the age gap, the race gap, and the income gap between the audience and the presenters, and it just made for a cringe inducing evening that I hope won't be ever be repeated.

I tell you what though, if you want to see fireworks, go the next Borough Council meeting when this is on the agenda!  I think I'll pass, and let Anne Pickering of the Daily Local News tell me all about it!


John Young said...

Andy, what a GREAT, detailed, and thoughtful blog post. Thanks so much for taking the time to put it all down. I'm surprised to hear that the stadium folks haven't done their homework, since I know that there's a fierce debate about whether stadiums are a net gain or a net loss to the local economy, with some Important Economists offering convincing arguments on both sides.

I look forward to hearing more about this -- and thanks so much for going!

Mikey said...

Put me in the camp that see stadiums, in general, as a net loss for a community. There may be exceptions, and certainly for a large city they make some sense, but usually (and Orlando is a great example of that) they socialize the costs and privatize the benefits.

For those that expect to rake in the benefits, it's a large incentive to push this through and it usually works if the opposition remains diffuse and unorganized.

Err... good luck.

Kristen said...

Great post, Andrew. You included a lot of detail to show why the residents are so opposed.

I hope all homework is done (and explained) before any decision is made for the borough and its people.

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