Is Mayor Buddy Dyer scared of dirtying his hands? It seems that way. Foregoing public hearings, Dyer has told city traffic engineers to make West Church Street a two-way road as of Nov. 24. Though not illegal, the move certainly angered West Church Street business owners, who say they were promised public input almost two weeks ago.
Aided by radio play, bar owners rallied supporters to show up at the Nov. 10 city council meeting, where they thought the issue would be up for debate. It wasn't. Dyer talked about why there would be no discussion, and property owner Brian Mulvaney aired complaints during the public portion of the meeting. But the council took no vote. Mulvaney says Commissioner Daisy Lynum told bar owners as much Nov. 9, so the crowd stayed home. He also says Lynum told bar owners they'd have another shot.
Until year's end, when Lou Pearlman and Robert Kling's slow-going renovation of Church Street Station officially falls behind schedule, the two-way Church Street will stop at the railroad tracks at night. To Mulvaney, that serves only one purpose -- allowing Kres Chophouse valet parking. When Pearlman fails to meet his deadline, as everyone expects him to, the city will renegotiate his contract. The smart money is on the city to push to open Church Street permanently. Pearlman and Kling will be in no position to argue if they still want city incentives.
(No surprise here: Pearlman hasn't always been forthright with city leaders. In an October meeting with Dyer, Pearlman said he was for an open Church Street at night. Then, after apparently consulting partner Kling, Pearlman changed his mind and adamantly opposes such a move.)
In the meantime, bar owners say they're losing their sidewalk-cafe business without even being allowed to voice their concerns. Dyer scheduled a meeting with Mulvaney as promised -- on Nov. 25, the day after the deal will be done.
What's odd is why the mayor side-stepped a public hearing. "He had the support [on the council]," says one city official who asked not to be named. Mulvaney thinks the move, along with the code-enforcement crackdown against outdoor drinking that began last week, is a response to bar owners bad-mouthing Dyer on the radio. "He's keeping people in line," Mulvaney says.
In any case, the future of Church Street is here, like it or not. Downtown Development Board Executive Director Frank Billingsley says the sidewalk-cafe closures are short-term until the traffic patterns on the new Church Street even out.