Ok, ok. I’m not going claim I’m Nostradamus, but I saw this coming. And if you are as smart as I think you are, you probably read the signs, too. Noke Truck Station is shutting down.
As far as I know, the truck itself will, uh, keep on truckin’. But not the restaurant outpost inside 16 West.
Now, although I’ve written elsewhere – kinda tongue in cheek, though mostly not – about food trucks as the start-ups of the restaurant world, the Station was a “restaurant” restaurant. Since I mostly try to keep this blogtrain on the start-up tracks, a discussion about a retaurant going under might seem out of place.
Honestly, it sort of is, but the issue at hand demands a cogent response. I hate to see hard-working people with good ideas fail because of the indiffernce or callousness of others, so I’d like to address the problem and offer a solution. Accordingly, to bring the discussion back in line with our Mission Statement here at Grandin Republic, I’m going to offer a “start-up solution.”
Before we pin down a solution, though, we have to name the problem.
And this problem is named HEIRONIMUS.
As in the huge hulking vacant building with the $5.5 million asking price that sits there brooding on the corner of Jefferson and Church, scaring away old ladies and other County residents. The dead weight of it’s imposing shell is crushing the breath out of our city’s lungs. It’s fucking brick and mortar emphysema.
Which is why, despite its great facade and spectacular Art Deco atrium, 16 West has struggled to keep tenants. It is on Church, in the very block pinned down and choked by Heironimus.
I’m not going to go into detail about the social science and the psychology of it all, because I’m not an expert and I don’t want this to be too pedantic and boring, but suffice to say there is plenty of research to back up the common sense understanding that vacant buildings make bad neighbors. The bigger and more prominent they are, the worse the problem. And again, the Heironimus building is huge and sits right on the very visible corner of Church and Jefferson, reminding everyone who drives by that Roanoke has had a troubled past.
It is true that Roanoke has had tough times, but Heironimus unfairly burdens that block – and so important is Jefferson Street that, by implication, the entire city – with the perception that it is still laboring to climb out of its decades long slide. Thankfully, that just isn’t true. Church Street has plenty going for it; for my money, the nicest street downtown, with well-kept storefronts and tree-lined sidewalks. It’s nice.
You’ll have to forgive outsiders for not believing the “Downtown Renaisance” extends down Church when they are confronted with the grotesque Heronimus, like Chunk finding Sloth in the basement of the Fratelli’s hideout. It’s bewildering, off-putting, gross to look at; you just want to throw a Baby Ruth at it and run away.
Only one thing is holding back redevelopment of this property into a useful and productive building. The goofballs who own it have no idea of its real value. They are asking about twice what it is really worth.
With our American reverence for private property rights, we have, as a city and community, just thrown up our hands and said, “Oh well! Nothing we can do! We’ll just have to let the stupidity and indifference of the current owners continue to retard and blight downtown. It’s a real shame, but there is no other option at all available anywhere ever in the history of all worlds and planets and universi.”
No. We can fight back. We can demand our government leaders fight this battle on our behalf; we can press them to use the power of eminent domain to take back the building.
Why hasn’t this already been done? Because it is an expensive legal process on top of the cost of the building. It would simply cost more than our city government can justify spending.
This is where the start-up solution comes in: Kickstarter.
No, we can’t raise enough to buy the building (besides which, if we were just going to buy the building we’d have to come up with the full asking price, rather than merely what the building is actually worth).
Instead, the Kickstarter campaign only needs to cover the city’s out-of-pocket expenses for the protracted legal process. We just have to pay the lawyers’ fees. If we can raise anything close to the $200,000 I’d guess it will cost, it would demonstrate the kind of grassroots support that always moves the needle for city council. They’d more or less be shamed into doing the right thing, even if they didn’t want to.
The mere existence of such a campaign in itself might knock some sense into the current owners. It would certainly be cheaper to sell the building for its actual value than to fight the eminent domain process in court for the next 5 years.
*A note to those who might be philosophically opposed to the use of eminent domain powers: remember the building IS already for sale, just at a stupid high price; this vacancy is suppressing property values for the entire neighborhood; and by their insane obstinance, the current owners are clearly telegraphing they don’t give half a shit about this city, so stop defending them and giving them a deference they don’t deserve.*
I’m prepared to do this. Who’s with me?