The three questions that I see as especially relevant in the Brothers controversy:
1. Are there any attempted justifications for the Universities use of eminent domain?
Most commentators have responded pretty negatively to what appear to be the Universities heavy-handed tactics with the Fortney brothers, a couple UW alum. Emily Mills, in her post yesterday at the Daily Page, seems to offer the best attempt at a justification for the Board of Regents choice to renege on the deal that the Fortney brothers claim was negotiated between themselves and UW and WARF.
But it’s a money grab, plain and simple. They [the Brothers owners] bought the property knowing full-well that it would be a short-term investment and something they could wave in front of the university as a bargaining chip when the music school plans went forward. Put up a stink, ask for a whole lot more money than you paid for it, and then claim, loudly and publicly, that you’re getting screwed so as to stir up support for your cause.
I’m not generally a fan of eminent domain, but I can’t say I entirely blame the UW for wanting to use it in this case. The alternative smells very much like blackmail.
2. Does that justification work?
I think not. As Emily notes, the Fortney brothers acquired the property by outbidding the University for it. If the University had plans for the property, it should have outbid the Brothers owners for the property in the first place. The Fortneys’ purchase of the property, even if it was done with the intentions to sell it to the University later, just seems like good business, nothing else (and certainly nothing bordering on illegal).
3. This PR campaign…WTF?
Since the Brothers owners decided to drape that two story banner declaring, “No UW Music School,” on the side of their building last week, more and more locals have begun to see this campaign as one employing a condescending attitude toward the importance of a new music school.
Yesterday, I argued exactly that point in the Herald, pointing to further incriminating evidence in the form of their actions on Fox News, as well as those infamous full-page open letters to the anonymous donor who has pledged $15 million toward a new music school. Today, the Herald made Mr. Sam Clegg’s column containing an apparent disagreement with my conclusion the feature of their Wed. opinion section. Clegg wrote:
Sweeping generalizations are often more to the detriment of their authors than their intended targets. In an interview with Eric Fortney, the co-owner of the bar apologized profusely for any potential offense the sign may have caused, saying he and Marc are not, as was implied in yesterday’s article, opposed to the existence of a music school building.
The accusation of the use of sweeping generalizations is bogus. But, regardless of what the Fortney brothers intentions were, or what they say they were, the campaign itself as of late has had an almost completely transparent, and certainly arrogant and condescending, anti-music school message. They are now saying they aren’t opposed to a music school, and that is a good thing. But until their campaign reflects that fact in the future, previous actions should guide our assessment, not them saying “woops.”
Check out the comments section of yesterdays Brunch Links if you want to see a back and forth between Sam and I on this with a good helping of snark.