A petition isn’t action

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 86 views 

The beautiful Clayton House — home of Federal prosecutor WHH Clayton who prosecuted the cases that went before "Hanging" Judge Isaac C. Parker — was condemned for demolition in 1969.

A group of citizens formed the Fort Smith Heritage Foundation, raised the necessary money, and saved the Clayton home from demolition. A total technical restoration made possible its listing on the National Register of Historic Places and its opening as a museum in 1977. Today, this fine Victorian home serves as a wedding and meeting venue, a “primary source” learning museum, and stands as a significant piece of our country’s great history.

The Mallalieu United Methodist Church was a beautiful building. Its owners let the building fall into disrepair, and in 2007, the structure became so unsafe that the city had to condemn the building.

Two local investors begged for the opportunity to restore it. Their architects said the building was salvageable, and they were going raise the money to restore it. The investors struck a deal with the city; if the city would get out of the picture and let them do their thing, they could bring life back to the building. However, in four years, all they had to show for their plan was petitions, promises of $10,000, and further self-destruction of the building. Today, all that remains is a façade that no one really knows what to do with.

The stories began the same: beautiful old building that was condemned due to its deteriorated condition, and passionate people calling out to save the dear old edifice. The stories differ in that Clayton House went beyond petitions and emotion; people put their money were their mouth was.

The Friedman-Mincer building (in downtown Fort Smith; aka, old OTASCO building) has been neglected by its past owners (Note: we love to blame “The City” or the local administration when we’re sad, but in each case, private ownership has allowed the ruin of the buildings.) to the point that there is a question of its structural integrity. The current owners recognize the condition of the building and plan to demolish it. The Central Business Improvement District (CBID) Commission is bringing in engineers for an expert opinion before permitting the demolition.

Some of my passionate friends are circulating a petition aimed at the Fort Smith Board of Directors telling them to stop the demolition.
The Board of Directors has nothing to do with this. Their only role is if they must exercise eminent domain for the sake of public safety; e.g., the building must be demolished and the owner refuses or cannot afford to.

In fact, just the opposite is true. The owner wants to proceed with demolition, and the CBID, a commission appointed by the city, has blocked the demolition pending further study by another engineer. Under certain circumstances, the city might force-purchase the property under eminent domain “for the good of the people,” but since the city doesn’t have the millions needed for restoration, that’s unlikely.

I share my friends’ passion for saving the Friedman-Mincer building, however, the petition by itself is pointless; it must be accompanied by action. If you want to save the building, your two most effective options are: 1) Donate cash to the current owners so that they can restore the building; or 2) Buy the property from the current owners (if they desire to sell) and form a corporation to restore the building.

The Mallalieu failure and the Clayton House success are examples of wishes with petitions vs. goals with action.

So … what’re you going to do?