News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Flashpoint

April 26, 2012

FLASHPOINT: Downtown developers should share more details on project

With all of the opinions being expressed about the fate of the 500 block of Wabash Avenue, one element is sorely missing: the details.

At this point, nobody but a small circle of individuals actually knows what level of analysis has been done to determine the fate of this block, and what comprises the results of that analysis. While the news media has reported that demolition of the historic structures is “anticipated” but not “assured,” the message — whether intended or not — is that the analysis has been done, and these buildings are going bye-bye.

So without seeing any details yet, such as a brief report of the development analysis results, the rest of us are left to choose whether to believe or not believe that no other site is viable, that in-depth analysis has been conducted, and that the analysis proves that demolition is inevitable. We are not able to come to this decision based on fact, so we must choose the path of faith, use our gut instinct, or use our psychic powers to come to our own conclusions.

Perhaps the development team still plans to conduct some level of public outreach to fill us in on these details, but it really is a bit late. I have witnessed a wide range of development projects in this and in other cities, and I can say with absolute certainty that the most successful projects are the ones where the development team took a positive, proactive approach that included the frequent sharing of details with the community. They made their case in multiple public meetings by showing that they conducted a detailed location analysis, that they considered a number of development alternatives for the site, and that they considered the needs of the public — and they backed it all up with quantitative data. They present this data to the community as fact, and the public had the ability to respond pragmatically rather than be fueled by emotion.

ISU, Thompson Thrift and the Ellises are all in the spotlight right now, and so far the overall perception of their efforts is not positive. This is a sincere tragedy because those with the negative perception include many of the same individuals that excitedly anticipated this new development.

While the ship has sailed on being proactive, there is still time to make amends and move forward with a positive public relations strategy — one that is inclusive, that recognizes that this project belongs to all of us, that respects its importance to the future of our downtown, and that allows the public’s voice to be heard.

That said, I think I speak for many when I strongly recommend that the development team share publicly, at a minimum, a report that discloses pertinent details of the analysis that was (or will be) done to show that the historic buildings are not able to be saved if this is, in fact, the case. Keeping with basic community engagement practice, this report should be released to the public for review and then presented in a public forum, during which input can be gathered to inform a final decision.

Doing this will practically solve the dispute. If we were all able to see a report that proved, in plain facts, that detailed analysis was done, that there is absolutely no other viable site, and that saving the buildings would not be at all feasible, that building materials would be treated in an environmentally responsible way, and that the team has a beautiful architectural concept waiting to be built that respects our history while improving the face and vitality of our downtown, why would any of us protest?

I personally choose to have faith that the development team has the best interest of our downtown in mind. I await a concerted public relations campaign over the coming months, and look forward to hearing what the development team has to say. Most importantly, I look forward to positive development for the future of our downtown.

— Jason Saavedra

Terre Haute

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