Saturday, February 12, 2005

The definition of insanity, part four

It's hard to tell who's telling the truth in this he said-she said account of a squabble between a New York developer and Mayor Murphy and the URA. But given the city's history, it is tempting to believe the developer, who claims his bid to buy the shuttered Lazarus building is being blocked because city officials don't like what he wants to do with it:

At one time, Jemal, president of the family-owned J.J. Operating Corp., had an agreement with Federated to purchase the property. But the deal fell through, in part because the Murphy administration wanted Jemal to sign a pledge that he would not bring gambling to the building.

Another developer, J.J. Gumberg Co., had agreed to sign such a pledge as part of its deal to buy the closed Lord & Taylor department store building, Downtown.

The URA and Jemal also squabbled over the type of retailing expected at the site. URA officials told representatives for J.J. Operating that they wanted a "quality retailer." Jemal balked at the interpretation, saying he did not believe the URA had right of approval.

First of all, let me say that I agree with the city's attempt to keep gambling out of Downtown. I'd like to keep it out of the city altogether, but the wishes of a hack-turned-flack blogger don't account for much in the commonwealth.

The PG's story goes on to say that developer Samuel Jemal agreed to take gambling off the table, and the city still insisted on controlling what goes into the building. Why is this believable? Because the city and the URA has consistently tried to impose their will on Downtown retailers and property owners. They tried and failed to reinvigorate Downtown through high-end retail. The URA refuses to sell off in piecemeal the properties it owns in the Fifth-Forbes corridor, insisting that it will only sell to a developer that will control the entire block. In other words, they have tried to revitalize Downtown in defiance of everything we know about how markets work and how successful urban neighborhoods develop. And my great fear is that this mentality will live on even after Tom Murphy has retired to his Butler County farm.

Will the last person leaving Pittsburgh please turn out the lights?

(See "The definition of insanity" parts one, two and three.


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