Sunday, April 23, 2006

Marting's: Portsmouth's Potemkin

Howard Baughman:
Caveat Emptor

“I thought we were talking about a wood-framed building. We're not. We're talking about a concrete structure.”
Mayor Kalb, quoted in the Portsmouth Daily Times, 4/22/06, on why he changed his mind about the Marting building.

Let me see if I’ve got this straight. Mayor Kalb wants the city to move out of the Municipal Building because it’s falling down. Howard Baughman, now president of the Portsmouth City Council, testified that the reason the council rushed through the purchase of the Marting building, in 2002, was not because they were trying to pull a fast one on the public but because it was dangerous for city employees to work a day longer in the Municipal building. To quote his testimony in court, “it is important to get out of the building we’re now in because it’s unsafe and it’s not healthy for the workers that work there. And I believe it was important for that reason to do it as quickly as possible.”

As Mayor Kalb told myopic Times reporter Jeff Barron, as quoted above, the reason he was initially opposed to purchasing the Marting building was because he thought its frame was wood. If the mayor sounds like a doofus when it comes to structural engineering, remember his only previous experience was as produce manager at Kroger’s. You can’t expect somebody who knows a lot about celery and lettuce to also know the fine points of wooden and concrete structures.

Concrete Evidence

But wait a minute. If concrete is so good, how come the Municipal building is falling down? It’s not that old, compared to the Marting building. The Municipal building was built in 1934. The Marting building was built in 1883. That makes the Marting building 51 years older than the Municipal building. The concrete in the Marting building is 51 years older than the concrete in the Municipal building. Concrete technology had come a long way in the half century between 1883 and 1934. 1883 concrete was primitive compared to 1934 concrete. In fact, "concrete" may be a misnomer for the structure of the Marting building.
Structural engineers had learned how to strengthen poured concrete, to reinforce it and make it more resilient. But 1883 predates poured concrete; the foundation of the Marting building is brick and mortar, not poured concrete.

marting's chink

The photo above shows what's behind the walls in the interior of Marting's. The foundation of the building is brick and mortar, rather than poured concrete. This is what the "foundation" of the 124-year-old building looks like. This is what is behind the Potemkin facade of the Marting building. The moldy, unbreathable air around the brick and mortar foundation smells like it is 124 years old. An Egyptologist, who explores inside pyramids, not a structural engineer, is what Marting's needs. That this is the kind of foundation city officials want to construct a city building on, at a cost of many millions of taxpayer dollars, shows how ignorant they are of the past and how little regard they have for the future.

Marting's: Portsmouth's Potemkin Village

So how come the concrete Municipal building is allegedly falling down, and how come the Portsmouth U.S. Post office, which was built in 1935, just a year after the Municipal building, and in the same architectural style and with similar materials and technology, is not falling down? The answer is the federal government has kept up with the maintenance on the post office, while the city government has not kept up with the maintenance of the Municipal building.

The Municipal building is in poor condition because the city government has been neglecting it for some time. City officials deliberately let the building run down, and they frequently complained how dangerous it is. Why? For two reasons: first, it is no secret that a local developer is interested in building what he hopes will be a gambling casino on the site; and second allowing the building to deteriorate puts more pressure on the public to accept Marting’s as the “new” city building.

Municipal building: Future casino site?

Portsmouth’s culture of corruption, not structural engineering, provides the answer to why converting a 124-year-old department store is preferable to repairing a 72-year-old city building that was built as a city building. Just as facades have been used to hide the real age and condition of the Marting building, politicians who serve the interests of the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce and the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership, have erected other kinds of facades to hide the truth from the public.

Phantom Shoppers

The Marting building is a geriatric structure. It has had several face-lifts, but it is a very old building. The only reason it is on the verge of being converted, at great public expense, into a public building, is that an influential family, the Martings, and a clever lawyer, Clayton Johnson, who is married to a Marting relative, concocted a scheme to unload a worthless piece of retail property off on somebody else. First, they tried to unload it as a piece of retail property when everybody knew downtown Portsmouth had become a retail graveyard. To fool one prospective buyer, whom they stupidly assumed was even dumber than they were, Marting’s and city officials tried to make Marting’s look like a thriving business by having cars driving up and down Chillicothe St., and having shills with Marting’s shopping bags walking in and out of the department store. Instead of being ashamed of such deceitful and dishonest practices, those who perpetrated them have been bragging privately for several years. At the now notorious closed forum at the Welcome Center, on April 18th, Portsmouth City Council president Baughman proudly recalled the scam campaign of fake traffic and bogus shoppers that he had helped create. Teresa Mollette’s website has a video clip of Baughman’s boasting. “We had phantom shoppers, phantom drivers all the time he [the sucker] was here.” Should we be surprised that Portsmouth cannot attract new businesses when we have morally and intellectually challenged politicians like Baughman in charge of our economic future?

In amnesia-like testimony in common pleas court, Baughman was at least able to remember what his occupation was. When asked his employment history, he replied, “Basically, sales all my life.” He testified he was currently employed at Covert’s Furniture Store. Given his shameful role in the entire Marting mess, of his lying and deceitfulness, a sign should be posted in the window of Covert’s: “Caviat Emptor.” Let the Buyer Beware. If the public allows Baughman and his relative Clayton Johnson to get away with the Marting scam, they will have nobody to blame but themselves.

Village Idiot

Having failed to hoodwink somebody in the retail trade into buying Marting’s, Clayton Johnson, Baughman, and other city officials came up with a scheme to unload the building off on the public. Just as bogus “customers” walked and drove up Chillicothe St. to deceive a private buyer, politicians posing as public servants are appearing at so-called open and impartial forums to present the so-called “facts” about the Marting’s building. Marting’s and city officials are holding an open house at Marting’s today, April 23rd, and they are lying in their teeth claiming that they are acting impartially and just trying to present the facts to the public. In a famous if fictitious incident in imperial Russia, a local official named Potemkin, by means of phony building façades, created a phony village to impress the visiting empress. Council president Baughman is Portsmouth’s Potemkin, and the Marting’s building, with its several façades and its bogus shoppers, is Portsmouth’s Potemkin village. And what is Mayor Kalb? Have I mentioned village idiot?

They tore down the N&W, a treasure of rail,
To make way for a county jail!
Why, they’d tear down the Taj Mahal
If Hatcher wanted it for a mall.