November 23, 2005

Government-Enforced Mulligans For The Rich!

The Twin Cities International Airport has occupied its present location for around eighty years. It became a central source of noise pollution during World War II (when it was a major Air Corps training center) and again at the dawn of the jet age. It's a fair bet than almost none of the residents under the immediate glidepath in the late eighties and early nineties bought their houses without realizing that there was a big huge freaking airport withi a zillion jets a day going overhead when they bought their houses.

Nonetheless, the residents of Richfield and Bloomington who lived under the glidepaths - nearly all of whom had purchased their houses voluntarily - managed during the eighties and nineties to find some lawyers who managed to win a couple of huge class-action lawsuits that required the Metro Airport Commission to buy out some houses at market rates, and pay for extensive soundproofing of others. This money - taxpayer funded, natch - was essentially a government-funded mulligan for people with the money and clout to force government to pay for their own bad decision (exceptions existed, of course; they were just that, exceptions).

That was part of a wave of suits, decisions and (worst of all) legislation starting in the early nineties which tended to relieve people of the responsibility for their own choices: the Minnesota Tobacco lawsuit was the first chink in the armor of "personal responsibility" for one's own addictions of choice; suits against fast food restaurants, gun manufacturers ("Nobody would rob a bank/kill oneself if it weren't for those evil gun manufacturers!"), and now bars and restaurants that allowed people to smoke (and attend or leave by their own choice).

The next front: Light.

Looked at the condo and loft market in the downtowns lately? I gotta confess, I love 'em. If I had the money (and I do mean a LOT of it; most of the downtown lofts and condos in this past month's Condo and Loft tour started in the mid-$200,000s, and some went well into seven figures), the idea of living in the hustle and bustle of one of the downtowns would be mighty attractive (combined, naturally, with the lake cabin that would accompany my having that kind of money, to boot, assuming I didn't have kids to raise, which I of course do, which renders the whole exercise totally hypothetical).

Lots of people do have the money, of course; both downtowns are sprouting new condo/loft developments in droves, from rough-n-ready converted industrial space (the old Cream of Wheat plant in Northeast Minneapols (low to mid 200Ks) to posh office renovations (the old Great Northern building on Kellogg in Saint Paul, $200s to $650ish), to huge new developments ("The Bridges" commercial/condo development on the West Side of St. Paul, $200ish to $1.2 Million).

You'll notice that very few of these developments have more than two bedrooms; these are not aimed at families. The market is the coming horde of retiring baby boomers, looking to downsize and live closer to the places they want to be. And they're willing to pay a lot for it, apparently; every month seems to bring another huge development.

And they want results. And as Baby Boomers, they were raised knowing how to take advantage of one social mulligan after another (spend too much time protesting Vietnam? No problem. Get pregnant and don't want to carry a baby to term? Roe v. Wade to the rescue! Didn't save enough money? Don't worry, Social Security will save you, even if it's bankrupt for everyone after you), they know how to get their way.

Their lives downtown depend, for habitability's sake, on downtown's modestly-resurgent businesses, jobs, and retail scenes, from which the condo dwellers benefit directly. But, they say, spare us the downsides; In the case of Saint Paul's new baby-booming condo-dwellers - whose politics are unknown to me, although downtown voted very heavily for John Kerry - if money doesn't do the trick, good old-fashioned political clout will.

It's not quite Times Square in New York, but residents say the light from the commercial signs casts a dark cloud over their lives.

"Lawson [Software] put up a sign and it's just escalated from that," [a resident of the Rossmor building]said. "People say: 'Isn't that just part of urban living?' I put up with a lot for urban living, but I shouldn't have to put up with this." (Why? You did know you were moving into downtown, right? - Ed.

Cole can see at least four signs from her living room, including the 72-foot-long Bremer bank sign with its 14-foot tall letters. The sign, which weighs 2,700 pounds, was installed in June when the bank moved into new corporate headquarters in the 25-story tower formerly housing North Central Life.

Almost immediately the Bremer sign became an issue with residents of The Pointe, Rossmor, City Walk, Airye and other residential complexes in the downtown area.

To quote Ray Parker Junior:
"If you made a choice
and it turned out bad
who ya gonna call?
That's right. Mao Tse Thune, the political architect of Saint Paul's smoking ban, is on the case:
"Using the building as a billboard seems to be a St. Paul phenomenon," said City Council Member Dave Thune (Right. Times Square copied us. - Ed), who is sponsoring proposals to cut back on the signs and their brightness. "Now we're finding that the signs are getting bigger and brighter"...So he'll introduce legislation in coming weeks to force businesses to turn off building signs or at least dim them.
Now, let's see; businesses put up signs to give themselves a competitive advantage in what is, let's be honest, a blighted market (Downtown Saint Paul is still a ways from health, and four years of Jay Benanav Chris Coleman won't help one bit). A sign ordinance will be just one more straw on the camel's back, just like the smoking ban so favored by the likes of Thune was one more straw (a final one) on the backs of Twin Cities bars and restaurants.

All to benefit people who voluntarily moved downtown, rather than to, say, the North Woods - but apparently want government to give them a little bit of both, on someone else's dime.

By the way - on the St. Paul Politics email forum, it's interesting to note that a number of the prime movers of the smoking ban are also working on the lighting "issue".

Posted by Mitch at November 23, 2005 12:53 PM | TrackBack

What a great post. The "mulligan" sums up the mentality perfectly. No pain, no pain. (I work across the parking lot from that old Cream of Wheat building. I'm wondering who's gonna live at the top of the tiny pointy tower. That'll probably go for 2 mil.)

Posted by: Jeff at November 23, 2005 02:34 PM

Actually, the tower (and an adjoining loft space) sold on EBay for (if memory serves) 600K.

Posted by: mitch at November 23, 2005 02:49 PM

tachometers sweethearts agonies:speculates Kevin doughnuts meteorology grimace

Posted by: at July 1, 2006 12:22 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?