In an effort to get my ideas out in the public for consideration and to further improving the city of Evansville, I written a few articles to the Evansville Courier & Press over the past 8 months. Here they are....
Oct 11, 2009
SPECIAL TO THE COURIER & PRESS
I'm tired of it all. I'm tired of high taxes, jobs leaving Evansville, a vacant downtown, a terrible transportation infrastructure and a lack of things to do.
I've gone off to college, graduated, and have come back only to see the same city with no new opportunities available. That is unacceptable. In the past few decades, not only have many projects failed to come to fruition like the downtown ballpark, but many great landmarks have been demolished as well. Gone are the Old Sterling Brewery, the Orr building and the L&N train depot. In other words, I'd rather the city have done nothing at all than what it ended up doing.
The most disappointing thing about it is the unrelenting opposition displayed by those who seem hellbent on preventing progress at all costs.
Now that the city has finally taken a step forward with an arena downtown, critics have decided to blame every problem they can on it, whether it be sewers, schools or even a pothole in the road. Even though Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel has said countless times that no taxes outside of the TIF district downtown will be used, critics still refuse to accept the reality that they will not be responsible for the financing.
If Evansville has any desire to improve itself and move up into the next echelon of great American cities, it must ignore these short-sighted anti-progressives who are in the minority despite their rants.
To those who disagree I have two simple questions: "What is your plan? What is your solution?"
It is easy to oppose something, but tell me what better plan do you have for Evansville.
I have formulated several ideas that I feel the city should consider. My ideas are:
n Redig as much of the old Wabash & Erie Canal as possible: Rebuilding the historical canal in Evansville would be effective in attracting visitors as well as historians to the downtown. The city should look to San Antonio, Indianapolis, and Oklahoma City for how to properly build a river walk. Around it, there should be a walkway with shops, restaurants, condos, and lofts that would overlook the water. On the water, water taxis would transport tourists up and down the canal.
n Establish a slack water port in the Howell rail yards district: Evansville has a good amount of businesses that use the Ohio River to transport goods. With a slack water port in the Howell Yards, Evansville would have a formal shipping district with plenty of land to attract more businesses to the town. By moving Mulzer Crushed Stone and the businesses west of the Ohio Street bridge, Evansville would have more land downtown to develop an entertainment district.
n Move the LST to the Mead Johnson Terminal and open a World War II museum in the building: Evansville played an important role in building airplanes and ships during World War II. It's time to recognize this great history, and a World War II museum coupled with the LST would be yet another great tourist draw to downtown.
n Establish a Riverwalk on Pigeon Creek: Just like the Wabash & Erie Canal, Pigeon Creek is a great place to build a tourist-drawing river walk. It should be designed just like the canal, maybe even connecting to it. Green zones would have to be mandated on the creek in order to ensure that some parts of the creek are preserved.
n Build a ballpark, marina, and a ballpark village on the Mulzer Crushed Stone site: Design the ballpark in a manner similar to PNC Park in Pittsburgh and AT&T Park in San Francisco where baseballs can fly out into the water and fans can kayak in the river outside the ballpark with a view of the skyline down left field.
n Build a high speed rail station and tracks in downtown Evansville: President Obama recently allocated $8 billion to begin implementing a national high speed rail system where trains will eventually travel at speeds over 200 mph. One route already being discussed is St. Louis to Louisville. Evansville must seize this opportunity to bring travelers downtown by setting the rail and station downtown.
n Establish a personal rapid transit system in downtown: PRT is unique and would work perfectly for Downtown. It is effective in Morgantown, W, Va. and it would successfully move people across Downtown quickly and efficiently.
n Eliminate all building height restrictions and build a high-rise public high school: It makes no sense to encourage businesses to move downtown when the government is setting height restrictions and putting its high schools away from downtown. The Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation should construct a high-rise building complex that would combine as many local high schools as possible. It would save on building costs, encourage downtown development and would not tie up traffic on the weekends for the entertainment district. I would pay for this by selling the existing buildings (Keep the fields and teams intact, though) and sell naming rights to the building.
n Encourage small businesses to build around Bosse Field and Main Street; Cooperstown, N.Y. is a great baseball town that is deeply entrenched in baseball history.
Bosse Field is currently the third oldest ballpark in the United States. Evansville should take advantage of this history by establishing a ballpark village around Bosse Field and all the way down historic Main Street.
I believe that there are many great ideas for Evansville that would bring jobs, entertainment, and excitement to the river city.
Evansville must be creative in funding projects like these. I would recommend reallocating 1 percent of the sales tax like Oklahoma City, reallocating portions of the gasoline tax to rail and reducing tax burdens on downtown developers.
If Evansville does this, I believe its future is bright.
Jordan Baer of Evansville is a recent graduate of the University of Kentucky with a degree in management and marketing and an interest in the sports management field.
IN RESPONSE: Windmill monument would draw tourists
JORDAN BAER SPECIAL TO THE COURIER & PRESS
Posted February 20, 2010 at midnight
As I read Joe Wallace's commentary on Feb. 7, l I can't help but agree with him that now is the time to tackle Evansville's biggest problems. Taxes, lack of funding for fire coverage, and a public school model that is beginning to run its course economically are just a few problems that have the local townspeople up in arms.
These challenges may seem insurmountable, but I have a few solutions that I believe can turn these liabilities into assets. Here is what I propose:
How to provide the fire department with more funds: Recently, two fire stations in Evansville were targeted to be cut. Instead of cutting funds from other economic development projects that would help Evansville, I propose a strategy that would allow the fire department to generate funds. During my time in Lexington, Ky., I ate at a restaurant called FireHouse Subs. FireHouse Subs is a firefighter-themed restaurant created by a family with firefighters. In fact, they even have a foundation that is dedicated to providing fire departments with equipment and funds. I can't help but wonder, wouldn't a FireHouse Subs look great in the old firehouse on St. Joe? Wouldn't they look good next to the two current firehouses that are supposed to close? The city could lease the space to Firehouse Subs in exchange for a percentage of the profits. It would create jobs, economic development, maintain the historic St. Joe firehouse, and provide the Evansville Fire Department with an adequate amount of funds in order to prevent current and/or future station closings.
Build a Windmill Monument: I've been thinking that in order to make downtown Evansville a place that people will remember and want to visit, the city needs to build a skyline view monument. Obviously, the problems up front are: cost, height restrictions and creativity to build something that will make enough people want to come to Evansville to see it. I think I've come up with an idea that will satisfy.
Evansville is in a good location to be a sustainability center for Indiana and the Midwest. With this is mind, I think it would make sense for downtown to go after sustainability companies and create a center big enough to hold an area for tourists to come and see all the new products and initiatives from these companies. It would need to be an area large enough for green companies to produce products like Vectren is proposing with a solar cell center.
I would like to see a "wind monument."
This windmill would be slightly larger, so that tourists could go up in it like the Space Needle. It would have an observation deck and a restaurant. The skyline view of the monument would give Evansville a green image.
Luckily, Evansville has great wind potential and the monument could generate enough electricity to power 330 homes.
I believe that the city would have a good opportunity to bring in a private contractor to build this project, since the electricity and tourist revenue would offset the costs. Next to the monument would be Wind Plaza, where the city could put other green companies and their manufactured products and services.
Recruit companies that are willing to temporarily pay workers on the same day as work. Recently, I attended an event that showed the video "Where God Left His Shoes."
The video is about a family that struggles to survive because they can't catch a break and become desperate for money just to live on.
This happens every day in Evansville and I want to eliminate this struggle. If a family is in immediate danger of not having enough money to live on, they need to be able to go and work for a company and get paid on the same day, temporarily, until they can recover. The program could only be available to someone temporarily in order to discourage long term use.
Here's how I would pay for it: Any company in the program could pay their temporary workers a little less and/or could get a small tax credit for participating in the program.
Lower the property tax burden on local citizens: With a $200 million school budget, the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation needs to find alternative funding options from tax revenue.
The EVSC needs to be creative in funding all of its school operations. In Wisconsin, a public school has already begun selling naming rights to businesses. I propose the EVSC do the same.
Naming rights to rooms, hallways, buildings, cafeteria space, and school buses should be sold to any business that is not religious, political, or controversial.
Also, I believe that the EVSC should implement a dress code for its faculty with naming rights being sold to businesses who wish to put their logo on the uniforms.
Because I want to see this city realize its potential, I have compiled a list of ideas, proposals, and solutions for Evansville on my blog www.EvansvilleMovingForward.blogspot.com .
I invite you to come and view my ideas as well as bring your own ideas to the table. I believe that if we get enough people concerned — citizens like Joe Wallace — we will have a much better city.
Jordan Baer is a resident of Evansville.
COMMUNITY COMMENT: Scrap I-69, use the money elsewhere
JORDAN BAER SPECIAL TO THE COURIER & PRESS
Posted May 12, 2010 at midnight
As I pick up the Courier & Press each day, I'm baffled at some of the projects that are being implemented in this area.
I'm anything but a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard), but I can't see the logic in some of these ideas.
It makes no sense to me to tear down a historic venue like Roberts Stadium when a water park, a church for the Jehovah's Witnesses, or a science center would fit perfectly inside it.
I would hate to put Roberts Stadium on the same list as Tiger Stadium, Yankee Stadium, Texas Stadium, and Market Square Arena. Too many memories have been made at Roberts. My proposal: Build the baseball fields next to Garvin Park and build a Coney Island-style theme park with it.
Another example: I read where Gov. Mitch Daniels is green lighting the Interstate 69 project. As an avid believer in high-speed rail, I am firmly against this. Does Gov. Daniels know that over 40,000 Americans die every year on the roads? Does he realize how much land will be wasted on I-69? Does he know that high speed rail is faster, cleaner and safer than auto travel? Most importantly for Gov. Daniels, does he realize how much cheaper high-speed rail is than building I-69?
On average, high speed rail costs a fourth the price of building interstate highway.
In the Midwest, Ohio is building a 258 mile Cincinnati-to-Cleveland high speed rail for $1.16 billion, while Indiana is going to pay $5 billion for 142 miles of I-69 to go from Evansville to Indianapolis.
That means that I could allocate:
n $2.5 billion for high-speed rail from Indianapolis to Evansville with truck intermodal terminals along the way.
n $128 million for the arena.
n $50 million for a canal similar to the one in Indianapolis.
n $35 million for a ballpark similar to the one in Indianapolis.
n $1 million for a statue of Benjamin Bosse.
n $100 million to fix Roberts Stadium and place a water park resort there.
n $5 million to move the LST to the Port of Evansville and build a World War II museum.
n $100 million for a slack water port in the Howell rail yards.
n $150 million for a Pigeon Creek river walk and a windmill tower monument.
n $20 million to build the baseball fields in Garvin Park.
n $200 million for a Downtown school.
n $200 million for a ballpark village around Bosse Field with a manufacturing center nearby.
n $20 million for a Downtown aquarium and marina.
I could build all of this and still be way under the $5 billion it will cost to build I-69.
If I were the person in Indianapolis in charge of funding the Evansville region, I would cancel I-69 immediately. You may or may not like some of the ideas I have proposed, but I hope you will at least agree that my plan makes more sense than this.
Jordan Baer is a resident of Evansville.