Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Old & the New


“In its final report, a building committee formed by City Council President Howard Baughman last summer has recommended that the new city building be constructed on the former Adelphia Cable property and adjacent parcels.”

Community Common, Dec. 17, 2006

(The following imaginary dialogue took place between the old and new year)

  • Now that I’m about to take over, will you answer some questions for me, Pop?
  • Shoot, Sonny.
  • Why will a new building for city offices be located on the site of the former Adelphia building, on Washington Street?
  • To begin with, to call it the Adelphia building is misleading. The building was owned by Dr. Irving Singer, of Los Angeles, an absentee landlord who rented it to Adelphia Cable.
  • Why is that important?
  • Because it was Dr. Singer who hired Neal Hatcher to try to find another tenant or a buyer for the so-called Adelphia building.
  • And Hatcher was not able to find another tenant or buyer?
  • Obviously not.
  • Why not?
  • Because the building was old and in poor shape. Before Adelphia rented it, the building was the site of a car dealer. A few old timers claim that before the car dealer, a restaurant occupied the building. So the building was old, had no architectural value, had serious leaks, and as we now know, had a very serious mold problem. If there weren’t serious problems, why would Adelphia have moved out?
  • So Hatcher couldn’t find another buyer or renter for the building. Then what?
  • Then Singer did not pay taxes on the property. Those began to pile up, and they would continue to pile up for as long as Singer owned the property.
  • He had a problem?
  • He had the same problem any businessman or landlord has when a property loses its value.
  • They can’t give it away?
  • They can’t give it away because it is no use to any business, which would still have to pay the taxes on it.
  • So what then?
  • Well, in Portsmouth what you do is unload otherwise worthless property off upon the public by selling it to the city, county, or state.
  • But the city, county, and state were not buying?
  • That’s right.
  • But didn’t the city buy the Marting’s building, for almost two million dollars, even though it was much older than Dr. Singer’s building, even though it had been empty for a longer period of time, and even though it had leaks and asbestos and who knows what else?
  • That’s true, but Clayton Johnson turned the Marting Company into the Marting Foundation, and in the name of philanthropy and in the name of the sacred cause of reviving downtown Portsmouth, he was able to unload the Marting building and its many problems off on the city and get almost two million dollars in the bargain.
  • But wasn’t the Marting building as worthless commercially as Dr. Singer’s building, the so-called Adelphia building?
  • Yes it was. But the Marting Foundation wasn’t selling the Marting building as a commercial property. It was selling it as the future home for the Portsmouth city government. No business in its right mind would have bought the Marting building in the condition that it was in and at the location that it occupies, and at anywhere near the price the city of Portsmouth paid for it.
  • No business would buy it but the city of Portsmouth would?
  • The city of Portsmouth would buy the Brooklyn Bridge if Clayton Johnson and Neal Hatcher were doing the selling.
  • Even though we already have a bridge?
  • Even though we already have a bridge. We already have a football stadium, but Johnson and Hatcher are selling the city the land on which the superintendent of schools wants to build a new football stadium.
  • What did Dr. Singer do when he couldn’t sell his property to the city?
  • He did the next best thing. He donated it to the city with the stipulation that the city had to use it for some public purpose.
  • Like a city hall?
  • Or a police station.
  • Why did he stipulate that?
  • Because then he could get a tax write-off from the U.S. government.
  • But only if it was used for some public purpose?
  • Right.
  • Wasn’t that pretty clever of him?
  • It was probably pretty clever of Neal Hatcher and Mike Mearan, who was Singer’s lawyer.
  • So the city took ownership of Singer’s building and his land?
  • Yes, but the city later learned from the Building Committee that the building was in poor condition and that the mold made it unsalvageable.
  • So, then the city had a worthless building that had to be torn down, but it was still obligated to use the site for a public purpose?
  • Right.
  • How did it become the site for a new municipal building? What about Marting’s?
  • The Marting building is almost as useless as Dr. Singer’s building. If the Marting building had been torn down, the new municipal building could have been built there. That site makes more sense than the site up on Washington St.
  • Then why wasn’t the Marting building torn down?
  • It would be expensive to tear that monstrosity down, and more importantly, the Marting Foundation and its tools in the city government were committed to the lie that the Marting building was valuable and worth saving.
  • So they got trapped in the web of lies that they wove about the Marting building?
  • Yes. But the mayor is so dense he may not know they are lies.
  • What would be the best site for a new municipal building?
  • The best site would be where the Municipal Building now sits.
  • Then why not tear the Municipal Building down and build there?
  • Because some developer wants that site.
  • Why?
  • Allegedly to build a new hotel and conference center.
  • Conference Center? Who the hell is going to want to come to a conference in Portsmouth?
  • The real reason is probably that the site would be very valuable if gambling comes to Portsmouth.
  • And is Neal Hatcher the developer who wants that site?
  • That’s the rumor.
  • So whoever the developer is, he doesn’t really want to build a hotel?
  • No businessman with any sense would want to build a hotel in downtown Portsmouth.
  • Why not?
  • Because the Ramada Inn, known as the Queen of the Rust Belt, is located right across from the Municipal Building and has been living on scraps of pork the city and university have been throwing it for years.
  • So a hotel makes no sense unless gambling comes?
  • That’s right.
  • I guess last year was a hell of a year in Portsmouth, Pop?
  • Sonny, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Merry Marting's To All


T’was the night before Christmas and all through the store,
Not a councilman was stirring, not even a Mohr;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that some payoffs soon would be there.
The Johnsons were nestled all snug in their beds;
Visions of Hilton Head danced in their heads.
And Jim in his longjohns and Allison in her cap
Had just settled down for a long council nap,
When out on the street there arose such a clatter,
He sprang from his bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the display window, he flew like a flash,
Tripping over decorations as if they were trash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave a ghostly look to the scene below,
When what to Jim’s sleepy eyes should appear
But thousands of women, from far and from near,
Gals from the past, from the nineteen-forties,
Slim ones, plump ones, tall ones, shorties,
So many gals he knew he had to act quick,
So he opened the doors with his lottery pick.
More rabid than bobbysoxers, inside they came,
And he smiled and laughed and called them by name:
“Hi, Denise, Hi, Doris, Hi, Trixie, you vixens,
You luscious dishes with all the fixin’s!
Come in to Marting’s, the heart of the Mall,
And Shop away! Shop away! Shop away, all!”

Waving their charge cards and eager to buy,
They went straight to menswear for their favorite guy,
And then up the escalator, like doves they flew,
Buying pill hats and furs and lingerie too.
And then in a tinkling, Jim heard on the roof,
The sound of leaks leaking, and then, poof!
They were gone forever, those gals, with a bound,
Gone without a trace, gone without a sound,
Like Christmas stockings without the loot,
Like New Year’s horns without the toot.
Weren’t they real and would they never be back,
For a shopping feast or even a snack?

He’d tried his dangdest to make Marting’s merry,
He’d decorated her with holly and berry,
He’d repeatedly said, “Hell, no!
She shouldn’t have been torn down ages ago!
She’s not like a mummy with bad teeth,
She’s not hiding behind a Christmas wreath,
She’s not an Old Maid, so damp and so smelly,
She’s a gorgeous lady, like Grace Kelly,
She’s old but well-preserved, like Liz Taylor herself,
She won’t be 125 till January 12th.
She’s just rusting – I mean resting. She’not dead.
And I don’t give a frig what the voters said.
So what if I’m only a grocery clerk?
The average voter is a stupid jerk.
We need shoes, we need socks, we need clothes,
And Marting’s is where the smart shopper goes.”

Behind the fa├žade, behind the faux-brick bustle,
There’s a typical Portsmouth two-million dollar hustle.
And I heard Jim exclaim, as he turned out the light,
“Merry Marting’s to all and to all a good night!”