Friday, July 01, 2011

$157,000 is a lot of lettuce if the Mayor's Office already favored Sulphur Dell before the feasibility study even begins

Seriously. Is Karl Dean just going through the motions on this one? His administration is the catalyst for all of the chatter about Sulphur Dell, and I have no doubt that he intends either to build a stadium near Bicentennial Mall on his terms or leverage concessions from the Nashville Sounds ball club on a location somewhere else. So, why waste $157,000 that could be going to pay for summer youth programming at community centers or keeping libraries open a little longer or extending a greenway?

Moreover, the $157,000 is not an innocuous or benign amount for a feasibility study given that the company hired, Populous, seems used to getting larger stadium design contracts following the advice that it gives (HT: Charles Maldonado):

Not only is it designing new stadiums and renovating old ones, it also is providing the teams with early advice about site locations, stadium revenues and costs. The teams, having relied on HOK [now Populous] for consulting, are then turning to the same firm for the multimillion-dollar design contract -- services that are being partially paid with public money.

There is nothing illegal or very unusual about building designers also serving as consultants. In fact, HOK competitors admit it's a smart business tactic.

But it does illustrate the hold HOK has on the stadium market in Pittsburgh. And for some people it raises questions about whether the selection of a stadium architect should be more of a public process and whether the opinions HOK provides to the teams can be unbiased.

Asking HOK for advice on a new stadium "is a little bit like asking a barber if you need a haircut," said Marty Powell, of The Design Alliance Architects.. "The answer is 'Yes,' even if you had one yesterday."

And the $157,000 may open the flood gates for other sharks to circle a big capital project without guarantees that neighborhood mackerels like Germantown, Salemtown, Hope Gardens, and Buena Vista will have any say over impact or consistency with community character. For all intents and purposes the planning process for a new ballpark was launched weeks ago at a Civic Design Center forum without any formal provision for community input. Feedback forums have been promised down the road, but the promise seems like an afterthought.

If $157,000 does not lead to smart, community-based growth in the North End based on principles of sustainability, complete streets, mass transit options, and real investment in neighborhood small businesses, then it is bound to be a boondoggle. This should count for more than baseball, for more than bling.

1 comment:

  1. Maybe we should send some folks up to Kansas City and start designing the landscape of THEIR city.

    I mean, we don't live there and are barely familiar with the town, its people, where they hang out and what they like to do on the week-ends. But, what the heck?

    We'll simply look at some out-dated demographics from their Chamber of Commerce and have a few COC members take us to lunch at Winsteads on the Plaza, then we'll go drive around for the remainder of the day looking at the parts of town where they'd like something to be built.

    Then we'll design a music hall for them.

    I think to make a statement, we cover it in miles and miles of guitar string. It will look like a big ball of yarn, except you can go up and pluck the strings. Then sound will play through some huge Fender amps that are up on the roof.

    I think Kansas City would LOVE that.