As reported yesterday in the Record, Former Mayor Jimmie Rishwain has thrown a wrench into the highly anticipated plan to bring more children downtown with the K-4 TEAM Charter School. The proposed school seems like a win-win: downtown buildings get reused for constructive purposes, eliminating blight while school children get a new place to learn. However, Rishwain has major qualms with the plan, mostly to do with his own adjacent property. You can read about the specifics here to get up to speed.I don’t have much to add to this piece of news except to say that it is a pretty disappointing turn of events. Dan Cort and Cort Companies have been great stewards of downtown redevelopment, beautifully restoring some of the city’s most historic and elegant buildings. On top of that, they have worked hard to find quality uses for these buildings, including helping these schools transform these buildings into functional classroom space. By all accounts, the presence of students from charter schools has been a net positive for the neighborhood, bringing more street activity and patrons to local businesses from students and school staff.
Unfortunately, these sudden concerns raised by Rishwain will now bog down the process to get the site ready in time for the school year. Before the complaint, the project would be able to qualify for a much simpler permit. However, any complaints force any project into a commission use permit, meaning that a report must be written to address concerns arising from the complaint. This report must go to the planning commission for a public hearing and then may be appealed to the council. Not only does this process delay needed construction to the site, but it also draws from planning commission resources which are already low due to layoffs. Fortunately, the planning commission should side with Cort as long as emergency access is granted, which should be sufficient for the fire department to sign off on.
Does Rishwain have a right to be concerned about access to his building? Of course he does. However, it appears he has spurned all good faith attempts by Cort to come to a reasonable solution, even as Cort has proposed to cover the entire cost of building emergency access. On a higher note, this episode sheds light on the deeper issue of slumlord/speculators who sit on land downtown and do nothing with it, complicating attempts to bring positive change to the neighborhood. If Rishwain was really concerned about the crime in the area, as was part of his complaint, he should have taken steps to fix up and use his own building to help eliminate blight. Instead, Rishwain has sat on the property, claiming to use it for personal storage. I don’t know about you, but there are probably more practical options for storage in town than a rundown building downtown.
Hopefully, this issue is resolved quickly and amicably, because the more squabbling there is, the more disruptive the classroom experience will be for the kids.