Before I wade knee deep into more contentious waters, I want to thank everyone for all the kind words they have offered in regard to my first couple of editorials. I am truly humbled by your compliments. When I drove to the Messenger Tuesday morning and realized that the Parker Hotel had collapsed, I knew right away that this would become the topic of discussion for the week. I was also convinced that this would bring to light a growing problem not only in our community but in rural communities throughout our state. What to do with aging properties as they deteriorate? The only two things I am sure about in regard to this question is that it is going to cost money, and we have to get a plan in place sooner rather than later. The reality is that we have buildings downtown that need work and are either a threat to public safety or on the verge of posing a threat. At the city council meeting, a lot of different views and opinions were expressed by residents and council members. It appeared to me that there is a genuine concern by everyone involved that we need to strike the right balance between public safety and personal responsibility. I didn’t get the feeling that anyone at the meeting wants to encourage people to transfer their personal responsibilities to the city and thereby the taxpayers. That being said, this is exactly what will happen in the future if action is not taken to address these aging properties.
To me we are wrestling with the great American experiment. Can man govern himself while also living in a communal society? How do we guarantee individual freedom while recognizing that the actions of the individual can and do have a tremendous impact on others. In the case of property, we want people to be able to own their own property but if it’s their property how can someone else dictate to them what they must do with it? Furthermore, what happens when someone does not have the means to keep that property maintained? Whatever any government entity would seek to do in regard to statutes, fines, or lawsuits to compel owners to maintain their property they will not work if the owner doesn’t have the means necessary for maintenance. In the case of the Parker Hotel, I suppose it would appear that our city does have an obligation to pay for the demolition now, as was decided at the meeting, in order to insure public safety. In terms of recouping that cost, I am sure there are plenty of other measures available to them but I am not a lawyer and do not want to venture into that arena.
I believe that as a community we must formulate a plan moving forward in regard to property both residential and commercial, especially in regard to our downtown. Addressing this piecemeal is not a plan and will have dire consequences in our community. Minneapolis is still a vibrant small community but to remain so in the future will depend on decisions made presently. The appearance of our properties both downtown and residential is first thing our community is evaluated on by potential residents. It is an unfortunate reality that the quality and character of our current residents is something that can’t be realized and appreciated until one has lived here for a while.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with our city spending money if it involves a well thought out plan that has considerable input from taxpayers and promotes future growth. I’m a lot more comfortable with it at the local level than at the federal because the local officials live side by side with the people they represent and are more accountable to them. That being said I am always against spending taxpayers’ money without a plan and without considerable community input. When I think about what we should do, I keep coming back to one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movie characters, Andy Dufresne, in the Shawshank Redemption. Andy has been wrongly imprisoned for years and has been planning to escape but just hasn’t been able to pull the trigger on the plan. That is until events transpire that lead Andy to decide that “we either get busy living or we get busy dying.” The movie has a happy ending as Andy escapes and justice is served. Whatever path we take on this issue we need to have a plan in place that ensures the future vitality of our city. I’m not advocating the city start spending money, I’m not advocating that we don’t spend money. I’m advocating that we get a plan in place so that our downtown can get busy living.