As an ersatz Irish person, I like an ersatz Irish bar. But there are some lines even the Hibernian must not cross, and the distinction between public and private property is one of them. You can’t just give public assets to private businesses—that’s fascism, bro. I quote the Missoulian:
The Thomas Meagher Bar unveiled plans last month to build an outdoor dining patio on West Pine Street, a move the city supports in concept as it works to build a vibrant downtown atmosphere.
Two things are misleading about that sentence. First, the TMB “unveiled” its plans by submitting them to the mayor and his policy advisory team, making an end run around city council and other channels of public approval. Second, the “city supports” TMB’s plan in the sense that the mayor likes it, but the parking commission and several members of the city council do not.
This is a big deal, because the bar’s plan to build an outdoor dining patio is to fence off the sidewalk and pave over the on-street parking spaces in front of its business, which happens to be next to city council chambers. Essentially, the Thomas Meagher Bar proposes to annex the sidewalk and a substantial portion of the street. Besides giving publicly owned land to a privately owned bar, this plan would cost the city lost revenue from the meters and fines on those parking spaces.
All of that might be okay, if the TMB were offering to buy that strip of land or compensate the city for lost parking revenue. But it’s not. It’s asking the mayor to give it free real estate at taxpayer expense, without public comment, under an ordinance designed to make it easier for businesses to make minor changes to right-of-way like awnings or sandwich boards on the sidewalk. Annexing the street is not a minor change.
The amazing element of this plan is that the mayor supports it. Mike Haynes, the city’s Director of Development Services and a member of the mayor’s advisory team, told the Missoulian, “We looked at the proposal and basically, generally, supported the request based on it creating a more active and vibrant downtown.”
What does that mean, exactly? I fail to understand how an outdoor patio increases vibrancy enough to justify giving public property to a bar. Like the Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s recent plan to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to help private developers expand the already successful Southgate Mall, this looks less like responsible stewardship and more like the business community leveraging its influence on a friendly administration.
The fix is in on this one. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. You can also check out this single-source story about how everyone is going to love the Thomas Meagher Bar, which ran in the Missoulian two weeks after it opened. If you’re a small-time millionaire of the sort that can buy and remodel a bar, I urge you to do it in Missoula. Your resources can really go far here. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links, unless the mayor gives our house to Home Depot so it can vibrantly sell the lumber.