An open letter to Paul and all who don't support the plaza
We had a caller on the show Wednesday morning who was about as frustrating a caller that we have had in some time...I admit that the combination of the assuredness of his approach coupled with a lack of facts and basic knowledge of plaza area details made it quite difficult for me to keep it together...and then he called back! The topic was the plaza.
We have talked to Paul on the show before but we don't know each other. He says he is pro-Yakima but anti plaza. That's fine. Leave it at that, you are welcome to your thoughts, thanks for calling and have a nice day. But he didn't want to simply share his opinion, In my opinion I think he liked the idea of wanting to "put me in my place" a bit (based on his defense of the literal definition of the word "our") and he wanted to challenge the concept of a plaza. That's fine, bring your facts and knowledge of the plaza plan and philosophy of economic development and we can have a reasonable conversation. Problem, the facts were in really short supply. The way it started should have been a clue to quit but sometimes I'm dumb like that and when pressed, I press on anyway.
Checking the audio tape, his opening question about the plaza was , "can you say without a doubt at 100% that this city would make money of of this plaza, 100% there is no question whatsoever. " Nope. That sould have ended the conversation right there and if that's his threshold, how do you legitimately go forward in discussion from there?
But expecting a guarantee seemed an unfair standard to put on that or any other project ...and IF that is his qualifier for a project -100% guarantee- then how do any projects ever get started? He has an answer. I asked where he worked wondering if his employers had a 100% guarantee when they started out and he declined to answer. One emailer actually thought I wanted that information so I could direct my "allies" to attack him through his employer"!!! I don't have allies and I don't do that. I rant against it...crazy town is a short walk from the plaza talk,
So I asked if there was 100% guarantee that they would make more money when they took a chance on hiring him? His answer was "ya, that's what I do because its part of my job and I do make money". OK. How do you respond to that, within the context of the greater discussion of business risk and an economic development tool?
Caller Paul answered the 100% guarantee question this way, "nobody goes into business "thinking" they are going to make money, anybody who goes into business goes in " knowing" they are going to make money in the business there in, that's why they start the business'".
Does he know something I don't? If everyone who starts a business does so knowing they will be a success, why all the empty storefronts in downtown Yakima? According to the Small Business Association, 30% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 50% during the first five years and 66% during the first 10. Did any of them "Know they were going to make it so that's why they started the business?"
Dave, Dave, Dave, why didn't you bail out now? Part of me said, "Time to end the conversation right there, but again, his self-assuredness drew me in. I admire and respect confidence, but people who go on line or on air in public forums and say things that are demonstrably not true always suck me in for debate.
Paul said, "nobody is going to spend thousands of dollars on a business and say I "hope" I make it." But isn't that EXACTLY what happens? Business people help me out here. You plan, you test, you market, you perfect, you establish policies and practices and then you take a leap of faith and you hope you make it based on all the you know and did, and despite that, 30% will fail in 2 years, half in five years. Paul acts like this isn't the economic truth, he wants guarantees to move the plaza forward. That's not fair and so I press on.
We talked about the plazas that fail, and yes some do, the reasons often listed include Lack of places to sit - lack of gathering places - poor entrances and visually inaccessible spaces -dysfunctional features -paths that don't go where people want to go - blank walls -dead zones around the edges - domination of the space by vehicles - inconveniently located transit stops, but Yakima's proposed plaza was designed especially for our city by a world class expert, she designed the Lady Di reflection pool among many other recognized successful spaces - design features will not be the problem.
Paul pointed out the city has some budget issues..without acknowledging .the plaza is designed to help that very issue.
And then the conversation totally broke down with Paul saying people would have to park on the "outskirts of town and have to walk in", that the parking lot is what generates the income now, that you would have to park four blocks away from the Yakima Steak Company to get a meal, etc.etc.
He didn't understand that the plaza isn't a mall with stores but a programmable open air venue to attract people to the area so that stores fill in the surrounding neighborhood...He said people aren't going to "magically come downtown". Yet Cinco De Mayo, Fresh Hop Ale Fest, DownTown Summer nights and many more events all prove that they will. Proper, consistent programming will be key.
I suppose people who heard the show and who are anti-plaza will think I was a "bully" once again...but to call for 100% success guaranteed, to not understand the working of the plaza you protest, to misunderstand parking to the point of believing you will have to park on the outskirts of town and walk in, well, how do you not confront that if you care about a fair and informed vote on the plaza?
It concluded with "dangerous gangs" in a dangerous downtown killing people - show me any statistic or example of that in our city. It doesn't happen.
So what should I do in the future? Listen and smile and say thanks when the arguments are this wrong and simply say thanks for playing? That's not me, so if all that puts you off as a listener, then I'm not your guy and I could understand if you no longer listen to the morning show. But this is me, my entire career has been based on ratings and public approval. I'm the same guy who was elected twice to the city council by being this way and who has been blessed to inform and entertain the biggest listening audience on morning radio in Yakima for most of the last 17 years. I love Yakima, I respect our listeners, I am passionate, I have expectations. I am not a bully. I ask for honesty and truth.
If you are afraid, say so, but don't say downtown is dangerous because its not, if you are lazy, say so but don't say there isn't any parking because there is more than we use now, if you just don't like change just say so, if you physically can't walk please say so but don't say that's why the plaza won't work, if you don't want competition for your business or if you fear you might lose some of what you already have, say so, but don't say the plaza can't work. Have an honest debate.
All I have ever wanted was an honest discussion about the facts and the details of the plaza, and with three plus weeks to go to the election we still can't seem to do that...after what - Five years??? Yes, it drives me crazy.
I'll close with this: Paul, you are entitled to your opinions and they don't make you a bad guy...but they don't accurately represent what the plaza is all about that you so willingly and confidently oppose. Me challenging you on fact and details doesn't make me a bully. You are welcome to call KIT anytime and we can always try again.
One last thought, current city council, you decided not to honor previous promises, you have already heard from city businesses leaders on that, you claim a main reason you lack support for the project is lack of money. Please be prepared to explain to the community and those who donated nearly ten million in private funds how spending even more money on an MLK Park pool with thousands of dollars more in annual upkeep, to serve a smaller portion of the community, on just a 3 month basis only, with no economic development component of any kind, can be justified in anyway?
See you on the radio. --Dave