Metaphorical menagerie killing city

As recently reported in The Commercial, officials in the Pine Bluff municipal government are concerned about conditions at the Plaza Hotel, which is attached to the Convention Center. They should be. They should have been more than a decade ago. They should have acted before now.

Pine Bluff City Council member and Advertising and Tourist Promotion Commission Chairman Bill Brumett appears to recognize this: “The Plaza has been an albatross for people trying to book events at the Pine Bluff Convention Center for awhile now. When I have people who are coming to town for events like softball and fishing tournaments asking where they should stay, there is no way I would tell them to stay at the Plaza. It is really a negatively impacting situation on everything we are trying to do downtown.”

Brumett is wholly correct. The hotel has been in decline for several years and it is certainly a metaphorical albatross around the necks of the Convention Center and the city.

Pine Bluff Convention Center Executive Director Bob Purvis told the Commercial that there is no on-site manager for the hotel. Even at first glance, that fact is obvious.

Repeated attempts were made to contact the owner, Bruce Rahmani of Denver, Colo., but Rahmani was no where to be found.

Of course much of this mess gets back to two different areas of failed public policy. As Purvis correctly identified, the first regards a sweetheart land deal from the past: “The mistake was made many years ago when the city was desperate to bring in a hotel to go beside the convention center. When they got Wilson World to come in back in 1988, they sold Mr. Kemmons Wilson the title to the land that the building sits on along with the building. And every owner since him has had the title passed on as part of the transaction.”

The other failure of public policy is deeper and more troubling. It comes as a two-fold problem: In the first instance, we don’t have an established mechanism for declaring property a public nuisance and then holding the property owners both civilly and criminally liable. Property owners know that even if the city condemns their property it will be allowed to languish for years — perhaps even decades — before anything consequential happens.

The second part of the failure is a lack of will. To this point, city officials have worried more about protecting provincial interests than public interests. We see this writ large across a city full of boarded up, abandoned and neglected property. The building at Fourth Avenue and Main Street wouldn’t have been allowed to deteriorate until its collapse. Troubled apartment complexes wouldn’t be perennial magnets of violence. Neighborhoods wouldn’t dwindle into rental slums.

And to the present point, places like the Plaza Hotel wouldn’t be allowed to operate as managerial islands unto themselves.

Of course the Plaza isn’t the only downtown hotel in town that is run in such a manner. It is merely the only one connected to and slowly killing a large, expensive public resource.

It need not be this way. As reflected in our story, the Denver ABC television network affiliate reported in November 2013 that a Super 8 motel owned by Rahmani was shut down by the city after the Denver Police Department was repeatedly called to the property over an extended period of time for calls related to prostitution, drugs and gang activity.

We’re willing to bet the local police would be willing to extend the same courtesy to several local businesses. Unfortunately, local laws provide neither the power nor the penalties to do so.

If we’re looking for apt metaphors it’s not an albatross we have here but a bunch of sacred cows — sacred cows that will have to be slaughtered before they infect and kill the rest of the herd. We can no longer afford special dispensation and customary tolerance. The leadership of Pine Bluff needs to summon the will to do what’s right, even if it’s unpopular in a few corners.