Friday, January 04, 2008

Because They Can, Springfield edition

If you've never been inside Pythian Castle in Springfield, Missouri, take my word for it: It's a grand old building. It went up in the early 20th century, was taken over by the military in WWII, and as of the late 1980s it was used by my US Marine Corps Reserve unit for classes and other activities. At that time, it was much-neglected by the "public-private partnership" (read: taxpayer money hole) leasing it from the military, but you could tell that it had once been beautiful and could be again if someone cared to make it that way.

Someone did, and that someone got lucky: The military put the building up for auction, and there were few bids. My recollection is that it sold for around $5,000 ... and that's when the problems started, with wailing and gnashing of teeth about how historic it was and how it needed to be "preserved." In politicalese, of course, this usually means something else. We'll talk about what in a minute.

The building was resold in 2003 to Tamara Finocchiaro and M. J. Page, who wanted to put it back to its historical uses: It had a ballroom that they wanted to operate as a ballroom. It had a theatre that they wanted to operate as a theatre. And they were not just willing, but intent upon, restoring it structurally and aesthetically, to its former glory.

Four years later, the new owners are still bogged down in the swamp that is Springfield, Missouri's city government.

There's a code violation. You have to fix it.

Wait, you can't fix that code violation without a permit! No, we won't give you one of those.

You're changing the use -- the last use was as a rat zoo for OACAC and as a classroom for teaching Marines about sexually transmitted diseases and how to jab themselves with atropine if Saddam opens a can of sarin on them. You'll have to get it rezoned if you want to use its ballroom as a ballroom or its theatre as a theatre. No, we won't rezone it.

The building is unsafe. How do we know it's unsafe? Why, because we want it to be unsafe, and because we say it's unsafe, and because we're the government, see? No, there's no way for you to make it safe, because to do that you'd have to satisfy us, and we're not going to be satisfied, see?

Now, for the translation from politicalese into English:

Someone in, or with strong connections to, Springfield's city bureaucracy either wants that building, or wants the land it's on, or doesn't want it competing with a business he owns, or has some grand political plan for it that little things like property rights are in the way of, or wants a bribe to break the logjam.

That kind of game isn't unusual in Springfield. When I lived there, I often heard it referred to as "The Carlson Pivot." That's not to say that the right honorable mayor is the grifter behind this particular obscenity, of course. It could be any of a dozen. But that's almost certainly what's going on here.

The best way to handle this kind of thing is to

- Mobilize some citizens to make an issue of it. Roaches scurry for the corner when you turn on a light in the room. Pythian Castle is probably not the only iron this swindler has in the fire, and he'll give up one thing before he'll risk having his whole gravyboat overturned.

- Get some organizations to publicly commit to holding events at Pythian Castle, when and if it's open for business. If the city council is publicly cast in the position of blocking convention and tourist dollars from coming into town, they'll trip over each other running to set things right. I suspect that Libertarian city councilman Doug Burlison is already all over this. Let's help the other council members see their way clear to getting behind him.

I'll get things started -- as a member of the Missouri Libertarian Party's executive committee, I'll be making (or supporting, if one of our Springfield-area members makes it) a motion at our next meeting to negotiate terms for holding a state convention at Pythian Castle when and if it is allowed to open for business.

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