Small City

In reading the turn of events on the WPHO and their future in the city, I want to layout a few facts and then draw some conclusions or at least some observations:
What The Hell are you Doing Here (WTHAYDH)  and other demagogues— I think the public record shows derision and contempt for the WPHO along a few dimensions: religious , ethnic  and racial.  I think this is is indisputable. However, to ascribe this ideology to the entire population of the city is wrong; just as wrong as the actions of the former. I’m going to counter the meme that this is really just a  few bad apples here — hardly: the former is more sizable than many of us would like to admit and let’s face it, not solely directed at the Chinese. There is a reason you do not see more of a backlash — in fact, applause generating and radio tuning  — around those types of statements. And yes, I’m making a qualitative assessment as I cannot quantify it.
Hate Crime — I see no existing evidence or proof of a hate crime but it is not implausible. From the FBI Web site, the definition reads as:

A hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias. For the purposes of collecting statistics, Congress has defined a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.” Hate itself is not a crime—and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.

Now given the expressed sentiments of  the WTHAYDH  demagogues and their supporters, again well documented in the public record and on the airwaves, it does not seem outside the realm of possibility that it may be a hate crime as the necessary ingredient of bias is fairly evident. However, the charge should neither  be dismissed nor leveled without some basis. As of now, the public statements from the APD seem to suggest against this incident being a hate crime. The fact that the crimes against the WPHO are not hate crimes does not get the demagogues off the hook for their statements. What it should do is keep them on the hook for making the hate crime claim even plausible within our community.
From the WPHO perspective, they have been in the community for a number of years at Auriesville, seemingly undisturbed by crimes or vitriol against them. Suddenly within the period where they decide to establish a presence in Amsterdam, they see theft, vandalism, human feces in their temple, and vile rhetoric aimed their way. Is it so hard to fathom that they just may consider it something more than random chance or bad luck, even perchance, crimes directed at them based upon ethnic, racial or religious lines?
Bacon — I’m very unhappy with this deal falling through. I can assure you that the former Bacon school will remain a present and worsening blight and ultimately will fall into an undesirable use for its immediate neighbors. It’s quite clear to me that zoning does not matter — look no further than the former museum —  nor does retaining character of neighborhoods matter. I can assure you that whatever offer comes in on the former Bacon school, will be approved and accepted, regardless of how ill suited it is to the flavor of the area.  So knock a few percentage points off home values in the immediate area as the risk around Bacon rises with this deal falling through and then knock even more  percentage points when the inevitable happens . For once, I want to be completely wrong but with Bacon, I seem to lose at every turn, as my dire  predictions prove true time and again.
Let’s see if the enthusiasm remains as strong on the deal failing when the school budget comes out with its attendant tax rates and program cuts. Remember $460K toward tax levy reduction just dropped off the table.
Risk and Reward — I’m not following anyone’s playbook here at all. First the demolitionists regret that the properties were sold to the WPHO in the first place even though it costs the public more money in the long run to demolish than renovate. Second the embrace of risk by the WPHO to invest hard dollars in the community’s most distressed properties is met with public support from the departments at City Hall while simultaneously lamented by a portion of the public who actually champion a higher standard and scrutiny on the WPHO than anyone else thereby raising the risk on the already risky WPHO investment. Couple the negative sentiment on the properties with the Bacon purchase brouhaha and you realize the risk level to the WPHO jumped an order of magnitude through the past year while the return remained the same. Any wonder they are questioning their decisions?
On the flip side, the purchase of distressed properties in this community is especially risky given the odds of vandalism and theft in light of the condition of the buildings regardless of any factor other than money can be made by selling the copper. As owners of the buildings, a requirement for due diligence in securing and protecting the buildings falls on the WPHO; it is not solely the responsibility of the APD to secure the buildings. There is a degree of shared responsibility here. To cast exclusive blame on the APD is as wrong as claiming the WPHO were solely responsible. I do not see a plausible argument or basis that the APD is negligent in its duties.
I’m simply astounded at how the failure of the WPHO or pullout from the WPHO could be seen as a positive financial outcome for the city. So when folks cheer at the prospect of their failing, apparently they welcome lower assessments, lower tax revenue, lower investment and lower population growth. Woohoo, indeed.
Financials and Numbers
In a financial sense, it would not be irrational for the WPHO to walk away if they viewed the costs to date as sunk costs. Or said differently: why throw good money after bad if it is just going down the rabbit hole? The thing that some folks need to realize is that the landscape matters if you are going to pursue risky ventures. If the risk landscape suddenly shifts as it does here, why would you consider taking even more risk for less return. It’s wholly irrational to proceed if your returns suddenly spiral downward. The WPHO is not the first, nor will they be the last, to consider other pastures given this factoid.
The irony here of course is that investing in this community is riskier than other communities given the state of the local economy and local politics. Rather than mitigate risks for outsiders to invest or to move to the city, a faction of t his community fervently believes that the bar needs to be raised on outsiders to join the community — this is simply madness. How do you expect this community to sustain itself without some influx of capital or people? The silence is deafening on how this practically works but it does not stop those who gleefully setup roadblocks to outsiders succeeding here. Apparently the local flavor of conservatism detests any public program or initiative unless it serves to protect the vested local interests against the outsiders.
Apples and Oranges
I’ve stated multiple times on this blog that valid reasons exist for opposing the sale of the school to the WPHO; I respect those arguments as they center on accessibility to Sassafras, the park or other aspects of the property and those expressing these positions have established, longstanding claims to these arguments. Let’s call those folks the oranges. If you championed closing the school and cheered its closing, cared less about how it was listed and marketed, ignored the impacts on the neighborhood, and now suddenly fear the prospect of the WPHO purchasing the property, masking all this as ‘concern’ about Sassafras, then you are the apples. And a rotten lot at that.
I’m less and less inclined to believe in some sudden coming together of the broader community around the WPHO or really any group or initiative that ruffles the status quo. We don’t merely want to wallow in our misery, we want it to envelop us. Never underestimate the resistance to cultural change here. So you’ll excuse me for not endorsing a Kumbaya session; in my view, the demagogues and their ilk need to be challenged more not less. We have nowhere near enough pushback on the nonsense that gets peddled here day in and day out.
It would help if some of our Esteemed Leaders would speak up against some of this stuff but like I said, there is a reason for that not happening.
While I’m not a fan of our slogan of ‘Small City, Big Heart’ , I have to admit that  ‘Small City’ pretty much nails it.

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3 Responses

  1. W Murphy says:

    Good analysis Flippin.
    There are a couple different ways of considering this issue that I’d like to propose, however. First, many residents, myself included, questioned whether the WPHO’s ambitious agenda to purchase large swaths of financially demanding and distressed properties was feasible. At a minimum these collective properties require a large & steady stream of money to fix & maintain- perhaps on the order of hundreds of thousands of $ in any given cycle.
    Some might counter that even if we have such concerns they are irrelevant as A) Any entity (group or individual) has every right to bid on & take on however many properties they wish and there is simply no legal ground to curtail this, and B) even if we do reserve the right to voice our concerns or, further, suggest imposing some restraint (ie- approve half the sales & see how positive the outcomes are)- we still may be unjustified as the downsides of total failure on the already dormant properties may indeed be negligible.
    I wrestle with this notion myself, as I’ve embraced long ago the notion that indeed we may have to tolerate a lot of risk & potential downside in order to either save much of our distressed infrastructure or reclaim areas in some other form.
    So I think the most interesting question here is do we bother to air concerns regarding the sale of large swaths of city property given our track record of being burned on many occasions? In other words, if the next group or individual comes in and proposes to gobble up many of our distressed properties should we bother to ascertain whether their plan makes any sense or do we simply hand over the keys? The legal answer may be- you must simply hand over the keys. Indeed any answer may be simply hand over the keys- but I’m wondering if anybody else feels that this is a pretty poor, reactionary (almost desperate) way of managing our infrastructure, and at worst, could end up taxing public resources & personnel, weakening structures further in worst case scenarios, adding more chaos and confusion to the Assessor’s calculations and future equalization calculations, injecting even more instability in the targeted neighborhoods, and, possibly, setting up even more egregious public relations and news media coverage for our already image-challenged city.
    Some or none of these considerations may apply to the WPHO scenario, because for all we know, they may indeed have had the financial wherewithal, and truly did get cold feet after the latest vandalism. But the reality does exist that the ‘investors’ did not pan out, that the stark reality of jumping headlong into so many large, demanding & distressed properties took far more than they could have ever hoped to tackle long term (let alone short term).
    I concede that all of this is speculation as we may never know the reality of what could have fostered their success or sealed their fate, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask ahead of time whether a potential buyer may be wasting our time or truly does have a scintilla’s chance of success- whether we could work out a deal that makes sense for both parties. My guess is we would have demanded detailed information on the potential developers of the Chalmers site or the Mohasco site (investors, potential banking/funding sources, track records of real estate transactions, etc). We certainly aren’t going to demand such rigor of those buying our distressed properties, but I would think large scale purchases of city properties most certainly should provoke some common sense questions and due diligence.
    Feel free to fire away at my observations- indeed I go back & forth on this myself, as I’m constantly reminding myself that really how much worse could it actually get- many of the houses are already abandoned messes. I guess I’m just a bit leery of taking such a laissez faire approach to turning over large numbers of properties- it has to be more than just ‘No harm, no foul’ when folks buy them up & then walk away.
    One final observation: Had someone been able to dissuade the WPHO from taking on the stress of the nearly 50 extra dinosaurs, perhaps they would have been able to remain as caretakers of the Churches and the Bacon School property. Now that could have been a true win-win for the community. But, as usual, legitimate concerns were lumped in with derogatory and bigoted commentary.

    • flippinamsterdam says:

      Great post.
      I have no need to ‘fire away’ as your observations are sound. A few thoughts:
      1) I agree that we are laissez-faire in our approach, perhaps more so than should be warranted given past experience. What troubles me here is why has there been no policy/legislation/guidelines established to deal with this? If such a policy were in place for ALL bidders and buyers, we could move forward without the instinctive pullback when deals such as this happen. I agree that it is risky for a single entity to tackle this much ; however, we have no existing framework to mitigate that risk. Since this auction took place, I see no evidence of any legislative or executive activity (not sure where responsibility falls with this) to mitigate this moving forward with future buyers. If indeed such a risk, why is no one working to mitigate this risk on the next round of buyers moving forward?
      2) Your point: “But, as usual, legitimate concerns were lumped in with derogatory and bigoted commentary.” is well taken. It may not be obvious but I spent a long time trying to finesse this post as debating issues on race, ethnicity and the charge of hate crime requires some care so the distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate arguments remain clear. What you have posted is wholly legitimate and I agree that legitimate concerns exist with the transaction from a financial perspective as we do not have transparency into the WPHO. However, if transparency is essential, then that transparency should apply to ALL bidders and buyers. Again, I may question the rules or policies but if they are applied equally to all parties, I respect that.
      3) I’m glad you raised the issue of our ‘image-challenged’ city as that costs us dearly. It’s like the old adage: if you like a product, you may tell a few people; if you dislike it, you will tell a lot of people. With the wonders of the Internets, that negative virus makes it all the more difficult to overcome in terms of attracting investment and people here.

  2. Bill says:

    The whole episode is another sad chapter in the city’s
    books. Uri Kaufman’s ouster in Amsterdam seems hollow after this
    weekend’s TU article on Harmony Mills [thoughtfully circulated
    throughout the city courtesy of your local news operation] which
    shows a successful project that might have been mirrored on the
    Mohawk. Then there was the Oswego- based developer that wanted to
    take on the Esquire Novelty property – despite plenty of documented
    success on similar projects he got a load of the local nonsense and
    told city officials he was leaving them to themselves. Now this
    business with the WPHO, right, wrong or indifferent, leaves the
    city with a highly pubicized black eye it won’t soon get rid of. In
    my experience there I found that, generally, Amsterdamians consider
    themselves victims and aren’t happy unless they’re miserable.
    Unless that changes – “Small City….doomed!”

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