A round of applause this morning for former Mayor Jim Dailey and Sharon Priest, director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, who told the Democrat-Gazette that they didn’t believe development of a vacant building at 10th and Main for a vets’ clinic would deter Main Street redevelopment efforts.
Of course it won’t. A $400,000 rehab to create $18-a-square-foot medical/counseling office space across the street from a problem liquor store and long-defunct after-hours club is not a bad thing.
I suspect that Dailey and Priest are taking the long view missing in Mayor Mark Stodola and U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin’s pitched resistance to accommodating veterans at this convenient place. Only a prolonged city legal battle — waged on technicalities invented by the city attorney’s office — seems likely to stop the project now. It is far better to embrace it than to continue to fight and decry it as the ruination of Main Street. It’s not only bad for the city’s lacklustre image on serving the needy. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy for Main Street if city leaders continue to broadcast how terrible its occupants are.
Mayor Stodola’s current spin — that this is purely a land-use issue, not about the clientele — is only a deflection from his and Griffin’s core message: Mostly decrepit Main Street is too good for the American war veterans served by this facility. The land use issue isn’t complicated. Such facilities are currently allowed by right under the zoning code. They’d still be allowed — after a hearing — under the tortured ordinance Stodola has tried to draw up to continue his five-year effort to push the VA (and other welfare agencies) out of downtown. There have been multiple hearings and private meetings on this facility. The VA has answered question after question. Neighbors have repeatedly expressed concerns. Given all that has transpired and with their reputation on the line, it is hard to imagine the VA doing anything but going the extra mile in making their clinic work properly.
How about let’s simplify this? Let’s present a resolution of support/opposition to the City Board. Let’s short-circuit the talk about land-use ordinances, building permits and the other legal artifices dreamed up as proxies for the real issue. Do City Board members and our representatives in Congress think Main Street is too good for a veterans clinic or not? Call the roll.
PS — I want to pass along a note I got from the mayor after I noted he erred during the City Board meeting in describing the distance from the city’s planned location of a homeless day resource center (which he’s suggested as an alternative for the vets center) and another facility for homeless families, Our House. He defends his effort and criticizes what I’ve written. The floor to the mayor: