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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Analysis: Why Kidd Failed To Get Support to Lower Anderson Bank Building Windows

Last week, the Davis City Council in a very close 3-2 vote, decided to deny an application by Anderson Bank Building owner Jim Kidd to lower the windows in the portion of the building on the corner of Second and G in Davis currently occupied by Futon Emporium. While we often have 3-2 votes, this is one of the closer vote I can recall, as it could have gone either way with any number of combinations.

The general consensus is that while I think most observers believe the council found value in the conception of historic preservation, it was as much the actions and conduct of the applicant as any principal that in the end led to the denial of the application to the lower the windows.

One thing strongly suggested by city staff is the lack of upkeep and maintenance performed by Jim Kidd. Had Kidd poured resources into the building and still not been able to attract quality business to the corner unit, there was have been far greater sympathy on the part of the staff and some of the members of the council.

However as several council members pointed out last Tuesday, the building is in need of much repair.

As Councilmember Stephen Souza and several members of the public pointed out, the exterior of the building is badly in need of repair. However, Mr. Souza was most pointed:
"The exterior of the building is pathetic, it needs cleaning. It's pathetic. It needs to be re-painted or cleaned, in fact, I would love to see it go back to the brick that it was, to give it the history that we should be up here cherishing, because there isn't much of it left for our grandkids."
The Environmental Impact Report (EIR) called for a number of upgrades to the building that the council suggested even after rejecting the application:
1. Remove all existing awnings on the southern and eastern elevations of the building in order to expose the historic and character-defining arched windows original to the building.

2. Repair and restore the building’s cornice along the street-facing elevations.

3. Removal and replacement of the existing second floor windows to match in-kind the original second floor windows of the building.

4. Clean the exterior of the building, and either expose the original brickwork or repaint the building.

5. Restore and replace all existing exterior lighting fixtures to match in-kind the original lighting fixtures.

6. Repair and restore the Grate for the Bank Bell.
We'll talk more about these shortly.

The second reason that Kidd's application failed is that he for whatever reason waged a heavy handed campaign aimed at putting pressure on the council. First, he placed lawn signs in various locations urging support for lowering the windows.

Second, in a Davis Enterprise Article on May 13, 2007, he threatened to go to the voters if the council did not support him.
Kidd said if the City Council won't allow the changes, he'll go to the voters by putting a measure on the ballot.

“It'll cost me something like $75,000, but that's what I'm willing to do,” he said.

Kidd has been lobbying the council to approve bigger windows, planting signs around the downtown area that read “Better Windows/Better Retail/Better Downtown. Lower the Anderson Building Windows. KEEP OUR DOWNTOWN VITAL.”
Third, he collected a number of signatures and solicited emails, both of which were questionable in terms of whether the petition actually had the signatures of current business owners (in some cases, we know that they were either old petitions or did not have the signature of the current owner) and also questionable in terms of some of the emails generated.

As Councilmember Souza stated:
"I'll say this straight up Mr. Kidd, when I got those 64 emails, all coming from gmail, that convinced me that something very strange was going on here. I've never got 64 emails with everyone having a gmail account, usually its pretty varied, so it made me rather suspicious, I think you would have done yourself more justice if you did run a campaign as you did over windows."
As members of the council, the EIR, and members of the public indicated, the building is indeed in great need of repair and renovation on the exterior. Mr. Kidd suggested he put $1 million into repairs, some of which were not required following the 2002 fire, but my examination suggests a number of repairs that are needed and would greatly enhance the commercial as well as the aesthetic value of the building. I agree fully with the recommendations in the EIR and will add a few of my own thoughts.

As Saylor said during last week's city council meeting:
"I spent an hour and a half across the street from the building, just to kind of feel it, see what the building looks like... So I sat beside it awhile and let it talk to me."
I had realized after driving by it on Saturday night that I had never really taken a look at the building either, so I too went to the building. The building talked to me as well, but it said something very different than what it told Saylor. It was screaming to me, please repair me, I'm dirty and falling apart. Please take care of me. Please paint me. Restore my original color. Don't cut me open.

I took a number of pictures (see above) and here are my thoughts.

First, I agree with the EIR, the current color is not very attractive, I think a more natural brick color would look tremendous.

Second, the awnings definitely detract from the building and partially obstruct the windows.

Third, the outside is indeed filthy and in need of a cleaning--although I think restoring the bricks would be ideal. In addition, some of broken and cracked.

However, the big thing I took away from my encounter with the building is how ludicrous the window argument is. The argument they were making is that it would be difficult to attract people inside who cannot see in. But the windows are not up that high, and moreover there are two glass double door entrances, one facing "G" Street and the other facing Second Street that allow for full view. It is difficult to maintain the argument that people cannot see into the building and therefore fuller side windows are of a grave necessity.

A good business who markets the building could easily create fascinating window displays that draw in customers. As you can see from the pictures, the current business has not utilized the window space at all. That combined with a revamping of the exterior to make it more attractive would probably do far more to make that location more profitable than any changes to the windows.

As Councilmember Souza aptly stated:
"I don't think there has been proper marketing... you have to do proper market otherwise I don't care what kind of windows that you have in the building, you're not going to survive. I don't think that the windows make the use, I think that the business owner makes the use work."
In short, I do not know what Saylor was looking at, but my visit to the location made me much less sympathetic toward Mr. Kidd's plight. In short, fix up and clean the building and market the space better. I do not even believe that it is necessary to not have retail there, if it is marketed properly, but as Councilmember Souza pointed out, retail is not the only option.
"This evening we've been fixated on retail, we've been fixated on this notion of retail, and trying to find a use that meets the building, rather than trying to find a use that fits the building." And I'll say that again in a different way, we want to find a use that fits the building rather than altering the building to fit a use. I'm not convinced, I'm just not convinced at this point in time that we have exhausted and been creative in trying to find a use that fits the building."
I will say I am now convinced that even if we are fixated on retail, the window situation is not an impediment. What seems to be the bigger impediment is the condition of the building--and that is completely on Mr. Kidd. Moreover, the bigger impediment seems to be the lack of utilization of window space by the existing business rather than the lack of proper window space.

The council made the right call here and we can only hope that Mr. Kidd heeds their recommendations to renovate this lovely historical building--it is good for the character of the city and it will be good for his business. History and commerce should not be diametrically opposing concepts and there is no reason that the historical character of the Anderson Bank Building cannot be preserved while at the same time the location made more profitable.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting