Opinion

Location, Location, Location (again)

So, you consider yourself a keen observer of City Hall. Here’s a quiz for you: What do the following names have in common?

Sakai, Ulloa, Bucsit, Sterling, BP, 600 Ericksen, Nystrom.

Okay...time’s up. And the answer: They’re all Winslow properties that were touted at one time or another as the best location for, yes, City Hall. (Everyone get that one? Maron, Averill, Stollman, Nordby – go to the head of the class!)

The parcels were identified by an architectural consultant and each developed its own constituency. In the end, the winner was BP, as in British Petroleum, and the city condemned a ramshackle gas station/mini-mart off Madison Avenue to make way for the shining new municipal building that serves you today. Not without controversy, mind you; local opinion varied wildly on whether to put the building in the downtown core – and if so, exactly where – or in some location at the edge of Winslow that might offer easier access to more of the island. The city actually took out a purchase option on the Nystrom property across from the ferry terminal and later considered land across from Ordway School, before settling on what now is generally agreed to have been the best site of the bunch: right in Winslow’s heart.

The debates of days gone by come to mind this week, as another city-commissioned architect’s report touts the need for a new facility for our police and municipal court. Envisioned is a 34,000-square-foot facility to consolidate the functions of law and order, united in purpose but divorced by geography; police are stuck in a decrepit ferry-district building abandoned by the rest of the city, while court holds session in some converted warehouse space at Rolling Bay. Cost of a shared facility is estimated at $9 million, although the report suggests that the city can offset that by cashing out some public land off Sportsman Club Road.

That dollar figure – $9 million – might make the biggest headlines, given that it cost almost that much to build City Hall itself. But the city has plenty of bonding capacity for capital projects, and has never had much problem mustering the will to spend money on itself. More likely to prove a challenge is the same bugaboo that vexed the council a decade ago: location. For one thing, available sites have dwindled since the city last tried to build a big-ticket facility, with several of the properties once touted for City Hall having since sprouted developments. (The city came close to buying the Nystrom property, now the site of the massive Harbor Square condo project; how history might have been different...)

A second consideration: Nobody’s likely to want a police station/courthouse as a neighbor, a fact that the architect’s report makes painfully clear. Police cars may come and go with sirens wailing at all hours, making the building a nuisance for residential neighbors. Even the court can be seen as undesireable. While the cases that go before the municipal bench are minor – DUI’s, traffic tickets and what have you – a domestic violence victims’ advocate works out of the building, and even the misdemeanor court may attract felons just

having a slow day. Nobody wants some of these jokers

tramping around near homes or schools.

Perhaps that’s why the report skirts the question of location, suggesting only vaguely that the city root around the area of Madison Avenue and 305 to see what’s available.

To be sure, it’s a fine report, and a thorough one. But we recall a day when there were good sites for City Hall available all over town – and it still took five years to pick one.

So to our fine police officers and court administrators: Don’t pack up your desks quite yet.

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