America the Messy Yard Police State

"Selective Enforcement" of messy yard laws in Downttown Phoenix


Gallery's closing demonstrates city's mind-set needs rewiring

Jul. 25, 2006 12:00 AM

Phoenix City Hall sent a powerful message Friday when its inspectors shut down the popular Bentley Projects just south of downtown. But what is it?

The heavy-handed action closed Arcadia Farms' City Bakery, Poisoned Pen Central and Bentley Gallery. The businesses may be able to open later this week. But at the least they've lost sales during the toughest time of the year. It's unclear why the city couldn't have given, say, a 48-hour "fix it or close" warning (The city actually notified me before it told the businesses).

The city claims the 1918 building is unsafe. "Everyone at the city is aware of the very strong support the Bentley Projects has received from the community and the media," City Manager Frank Fairbanks told me. "But we cannot accept risk of loss of life or serious injury."

Yet the building was extensively rehabbed and has been open for 18 months. The businesses have become popular even though the city never allowed them to put up real signs. I've given several talks and book signings there and have only been impressed with the care the owners took. Still, it's impossible for anyone, even the mayor, to question it if technocrats say essentially that "everybody's gonna DIE!"

Downtown small businesses have complained for years of "selective enforcement" against those reusing old buildings. Indeed, the closing bears an eerie similarity to the embarrassing crackdown on First Friday last year. City Hall is used to new, suburban construction and has lagged in accommodating historic reuse of buildings. Its regulations are notoriously complicated.

At the least, we see a huge imbalance and disconnect between robust code enforcement and pitiful economic-development efforts. This despite city lip service from higher-ups about wanting a great downtown.

It may be the city and the building owners share some blame. The two sides had been negotiating over some of these issues for months.

Fortunately, co-owner Bentley Calverley is committed to the center city and apparently has the means to meet the city's complex demands.

Yet the action could send a message to anyone thinking of doing business downtown: It's not worth it. No wonder Phoenix has miles of empty buildings or vacant lots while our competitor cities have adaptive reuse codes and vibrant urban business districts.

Yes, there's a desperate need for rewiring: of the city codes, regulations and bureaucratic mind-set.

This is a defining moment, and how it turns out will tell whether downtown has a future despite billions in public money.

Phoenix is the Fifth-largest City But . . . Department: The Wall Street Journal reported on the most inventive towns in America, based on patents. San Jose is first, and its Bay area neighbor Fremont, Calif., is No 5. No Arizona city made the top 20 or the list of up-and-comers.

No smiley face: The blog blasts Attorney General Terry Goddard, "a career politician and twice failed candidate for governor," for besmirching Wal-Mart's "honest reputation" while just chasing headlines.

Arizona is suing the galaxy's largest retailer for alleged ongoing violations of state pricing laws.

The Web site is an offshoot of the group Working Families for Wal-Mart, which is primarily funded by Wal-Mart to push its image campaign and fight against unionization.

Reach Talton at Read Talton's blog at www.


America the Messy Yard Police State