Framing the Dialogue

Up In Your Business

There is perhaps nothing government likes better than getting in your business.  I am mostly thinking of government “leaders” and elected officials.  Having worked off and on in government for many years I rarely have seen the vindictive low level government bureaucrat of the stereotype that many talking heads like to vilify.  I don’t doubt that many exist and I have only worked in one segment, but it is a regulatory agency where one would think the vindictive would flourish.  What many people forget is the process…elected officials pass laws, the laws require that regulations be adopted, lawyers and politicians help write the regulations, many policies have to be developed to explain the laws written by lawyers and politicians, people then have to adhere to these edicts.  Like them or not, government workers are often in the middle and seemingly in your business.

The more sinister and intrusive government acts are by higher officials.  A Pittsburgh “landmark” was the Garden Theater which, as a  youth, I would go to see the latest releases.  It was along a bus line and fairly easy to access.  Sometime around high school the Garden achieved it landmark status.  The owner opted for XXX movies rather than the ones that I used to see.  My high school bus ride took us past the Garden each day and Wednesdays were the day they got a new movie.  A bus load of Catholic high school students would be treated to the newest feature film.  Porn movie title writers are a creative bunch. 

Decades later Pittsburgh officials decided that this area of the city needed sprucing up and that a theater that showed pornography no longer should be allowed to reside in one of its neighborhoods.  Public officials had a great idea for a redevelopment project in that area and decided that the Garden would no longer stand; they would use their power of Eminant Domain to take the property.  The only problem was that the owner didn’t want to sell and apparently had some money to fight and was willing to take on the government.  At the time of the article linked (in blue) the City had spent over $500,000 of tax money to close the business.  The Garden eventually lost as elected officials are never at a loss to continue spending our money and the Garden was closed.  That was around nine years ago.  This photograph of the “redevelopment” project was taken recently and the area looks remarkably like it did when I was in high school, though the tax-paying businesses are now gone and my guess is that the new owners, an arm of Pittsburgh’s government, doesn’t pay property taxes.

Fast-forward to today and Pittsburgh is again having trouble with an adult entertainment establishment.  This downtown club features less-than-clad women and has been at their current location for around fifty years (with different owners and different names).  The problem with the club is that the area around it has now become part of the theatre district (notice how I spelled it differently?) and an adult club is barely tolerated.  The current owner has the audacity to want to expand his club into a vacant, adjacent building and the elitists are all on high alert.  The funny thing is that his proposal meets all requirements and he is planning several enhancements to make his establishment less conspicuous.  Here are few gems from the intelligentsia;

“Without question, we’ve coexisted.  We’re not about eliminating a legitimate business, but we are not interested in having this kind of business expand.”

“It is a miracle we haven’t had any (problems) so far.”

The problem is that in their attempt to limit or close adult clubs an unintended consequence happened and they have made existing clubs MORE valuable with very little chance of competition entering the market.  They have a business in demand, have had no problems, and have no competition.  The “we know best” community has just created the perfect environment for a business that they loathe to thrive.  Too funny.

My last story is one where the mamby pamby of interference has come back to bite the government hand that feeds them.   With the opening of the Consol Energy Center last year the City of Pittsburgh has completed its taxpayer-financed trilogy of new professional sports venues.  I believe that tax dollars should be used to partially fund these venues, however, a significant share of the burden should be born by the teams.  One of the issues with each of these projects has been the value of surrounding property and how they will be used.  The latest is what to do with the previous home of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Civic Arena (that’s what it was called before the naming rights were sold to Mellon). 

Pittsburgh officials have dreams of shops, hotels, parking, and offices in their heads after the Arena is torn down.  Step in a bunch of groups who don’t want the building demolished.  They have been successfully so far by delaying any projects by an attempt to get the domed structure on the list of historic sites and subsequent preservation.  While it is funny to see public officials thwarted by their own rules these very same laws allow non-owners to dictate how owners will use their property.  Should the Civic Arena be placed on the historic list the owners (who happen to be the taxpayers in this case via an authority) of the building will have to leave it in place.  Estimates are that it will cost $10,000 per month just to have the building in “moth balls.”  Politicians waste more than that a lunch, but that does not factor in the loss of what would replace it. 

They reap what they sowed!

Updated May 11, 2011 at this link. 

Leave a comment

Use basic HTML (<a href="">, <strong>, <blockquote>)