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Flawed city process

I have been an aggressive advocate of redeveloping Birmingham's N. Bates St. site for many years. I have stood atop the Old Woodward parking structure many times and imagined what might be done with the special piece of under-utilized property on the Rouge. If you've never stood there and let your creative juices flow, I'd encourage it.

There's also a gate in the fence along the back of the parking lot. Open it, step through, and you'll be transported to another world.

I always hoped that Birmingham, the home of many creative and intelligent people, would manage to do the right thing. The recruitment of some of our best and brightest to lead an international design competition was one not-so-outlandish thought.

Sadly, the process that has unfolded has been shocking in its incompetence. The lawsuit the city now faces accusing it of inside dealing and conflicts of interest is just one symptom of a process flawed since Day One.

The city failed to appoint experts to help guide the process, and instead relied on an ad-hoc committee of amateurs. The resident member intended to have commercial development background, former city commissioner Gordon Rinschler, had no relevant experience, and at least one member, city commissioner Rackeline Hoff, repeatedly, accurately and presciently wondered aloud whether the committee was over-reaching its charter. No one in city government – elected or appointed – has any significant experience in public-private partnerships.

The refusal to seriously consider, and then summarily dismiss, a proposal from one of the world's foremost architectural firms, Robert A.M. Stern Architects, was shameful.

City officials should think carefully about how they proceed and the likelihood of success of their current plans given the circumstances. If any aspect of this embarrassment comes to a vote, the city will face strong opposition that will delay any development for years.

In this game of Monopoly, the city should return to Go, do not collect $200, and start over.

Clinton Baller


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