Four factions divided over Hayden project

Published 12:09 pm Saturday, November 17, 2012

by Thomas H. Councill Jr.

In my talks with people about the Hayden project, I’ve run into four groups of thinking.

The “don’t say anything because it is a black” group.

They say that Mayor Raystine Johnson-Ashburn and Councilwoman Mary Hilliard are black, and because they are black we should let them do what they want to do to the city.

They basically don’t care and don’t want anybody else to care either. They just don’t want anything said.

The “knock-it-down-because-I’m-sick-of-looking-at-it group” does not care that Ashburn and Hilliard’s alliance are the same people who made the building an eyesore in the first place. They don’t care about anything, but knocking it down.

The “I-want-them-to-do-something-but-they-moved-too-slow-so-I’m-sick-of-looking-at- it-knock-it-down group” are people who don’t have time for the politics of the project, don’t know and don’t want to know.

And lastly, the “let-us-save-black-history-and-use-the-building-for-some-community-good” group — these are people who are positive, want to try and want to believe the city’s leaders are doing the right things.

Well, this letter is not for any of those folks.

For the knock-it-down-crowd, start cheering. You will get what you want. The way this project is being handled by Mayor Ashburn, Councilwoman Hilliard and their alliance, the building must come down.

For the let-it-stand groups, well sorry, it isn’t going to happen unless the city renegotiates the contract to allow a revert clause, which would allow somebody else to try if Senior Services fails to get commitments for tax credits, loans and private investment.

I write this letter as a question to all of the good government, low taxes folks who continually write letters to the editor, or pluck their two cents down on some Internet blog. Why aren’t you saying something about selling city land at a loss?

Senior Services is not the only non-profit organization in the world that deserves a handout. What put them in front of the line.

Forget history. The land is worth between $770,000 and $1.5 million. The city is selling it to them for $400,000.

Based on its current comments, contract and numbers, the project is destined to fail. But for them, there will be a silver lining. They will end up owning the land free and clear.

They can sell the land for a profit. Best case scenario, they can make about $1.1 million.

Who are these equity partners that Mayor Ashburn, Hilliard and the alliance don’t want to identify or talk about? Is somebody getting over on the public?

When did the city advertise a request for proposal on the project? When did they bid the project out? What was the city’s initial plan for the building? Why was Senior Services picked over the other four groups?

Are the equity partners non-profits or are they individuals?

Why is Councilman Barry Cheatham voting on this deal as a city councilman when he is also a director of Senior Services? Isn’t this a conflict of interest?

Why not sell the land for a profit? Why not have a bid on the land? When the building comes down, and Senior Services is holding the land, does the city get any tax revenue?

I suggest that the “good-government-I’m-for-transparency-keep-taxes-low group” hurry up and look at this deal.

THOMAS H. COUNCILL JR. is a member of the City’s redevelopment management team and can be reached at