A Brothers battle rundown

by

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.

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8 Responses to “A Brothers battle rundown”

  1. Jack Says:

    The best justification is that Brothers has a really tough ID policy.

    • Jim Says:

      I’ve never been in a Brothers and thought “I like this bar, I’m coming back.” And I’ve been to several. Maybe that says more about me…

  2. pjmad Says:

    Again with the “university reneged” thing. The State Journal article from October indicates that the offer the Regents quashed came from WARF, not the University. WARF is a private foundation and doesn’t have condemnation powers so it would make sense that the regents would have to come in and quash the deal if they thought it was getting too rich (approaching 300% of the property’s market value).

    The Fortneys, however, are saying they were dealing with the university. I guess that will be cleared up in the court case.

    As for the initial WARF offer. I gather, from Eric Fortney’s comment on Emily’s post at the Isthmus, that they had first right of refusal as a clause in their lease. Once they matched WARF’s offer, the building was theirs.

    Eric claims in the same comment, though, that they didn’t realize at the time what the university’s plans were for the site, despite the fact that the arts district redevelopment was announced in 2003 and the master plan published in 2005. They’re claiming they spent $2 million for a property and it never occurred to them to ask why the UW, which owns the rest of the block, would have wanted to buy the tavern on the corner.

  3. Emily Says:

    First off I should clear up that, if it sounded like I was saying what the Fortney’s had done was illegal, that was not my intention. As far as I can see, nothing illegal as happened thus far. My intent was simply to point out how shady it looks that they bought the place knowing full-well (presumably, despite Eric’s comment on my post) what the university’s plans for it were, so their current campaign comes off as disingenuous at best.

    • Alec S Says:

      “…so their current campaign comes off as disingenuous at best.”

      I definitely agree with you there. This PR campaign is becoming a huge joke. That seems to be the disconnect here. If they are being honest about the negotiations it seems like they have a good case against UW, but their PR campaign about it has been ludicrous and probably self-defeating.

  4. pjmad Says:

    The sign was illegal.

  5. Patrick Fuchs Says:

    Mr. Slocum,

    I have noticed that you have repeatedly cited a Gallup poll regarding Americans’ negative attitudes toward the arts. Because I am interested in the topic, I ask that you please post the link to that poll at your convenience– I was unable to track it down. I did find this “American Attitudes Toward Making Music” poll by Gallup, which reported:

    Music and Schools
    -93 percent felt schools should offer musical instrument instruction as part of regular curriculum
    -95 percent said music was part of a well-rounded education
    -79 percent felt states should mandate music education so all students have the opportunity in school

    General Opinion of Music
    -97 percent of respondents that playing a musical instrument provided a sense of accomplishment and is a good means of expression
    -80 percent believed that playing an instrument makes you smarter
    -85 percent regretted not learning to play an instrument

    A few caveats of course:
    1) The survey seems to be focused mainly on music and elementary/secondary schools, as my source did not list published data relating to music and colleges (though I am sure some is available somewhere)
    2) Americans’ overwhelming positive attitudes toward learning an instrument does not mean that they feel the same way about receiving professional training in the practice
    3) There are no trade-offs posed here– for example, whether music teaching would require the use of eminent domain

    That being said, I was surprised by the overwhelming response of Americans in favor of music education. Before we launch into a debate on whether the sign perpetuates Americans’ negative attitudes toward music education, let’s make sure Americans actually feel negatively about music education (as opposed to not as strongly as you think they should).

    http://www.namm.org/news/press-releases/gallup-organization-reveals-findings-american-atti

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