Saturday, September 26, 2009
Tomorrow is your last chance this year to rent a boat on Lake Wingra. Wingra Boats closes for the season tomorrow -- marking the official end of summer for people who like to rent a boat for some summery paddling or sailing on Lake Wingra. Actually, it doesn't all disappear. The boats will be put into storage, the piers will be taken down, but a few posts will remain poking out of the water as a reminder of what once had been. And all too soon, the ice fishers will take over.
The Edgewater Hotel pier has always been a great place to enjoy a couple tall, cold ones and enjoy the sunset on a warm summer evening. Would the injection of millions in taxpayer financing would make this a significantly better experience? Your answer probably says a lot about your feelings about downtown real estate development in recent years.
When the mayor and the City Council think about tax incremental financing, they like to think big. At least that's the impression you get when you see them turn down a $300,000 request from a biotech company that would actually create well-paid jobs and yet continue to flirt with the idea of providing $16 million for the proposed Edgewater Hotel expansion on Lake Mendota, which might or might not provide a cool public plaza on the lake, but beyond that would provide few actual economic benefits except perhaps some more low-paid hotel service sector jobs.
Mark Eisen has a good column about the issue in Isthmus with more background.
What can one make of the city council's recent rejection of a tiny $300,000 TIF for Danisco USA, the Danish owner of the old Marschall dairy lab? The multinational corporation was considering a phased $50 million expansion here, but now may turn to its American branches in Waukesha and Rochester, N.Y. At stake were an estimated 179 new jobs — not just professional positions, but blue-collar jobs that pay a family-supporting hourly wage of $16 to $23. How foolish of City Hall.Haven't we learned anything from our experience with the "condo magnet," the Overture Center, and the downtown condo glut that followed? Sure, the Edgewater needs a facelift, and a small public subsidy wouldn't hurt, as Eisen suggests. But $16 million in this awful economy? Surely we can do a better job of thinking through the economic benefit of our public dollars.
City leaders need to focus TIF on job creation. In the case of the central city, that means unlocking the largely dormant economic potential of the east rail corridor. How can the city capitalize on Google's beachhead on Blount Street? What can be done to advance the University Research Park's newly opened Metro Innovation Center in the old Marquip building?
Surprisingly, most of the discussion over the Edgewater project has concerned its design and appropriateness for the venerable Mansion Hill historic district. A better question: Just what the heck is the city getting for its $16 million?
Proponents of the $16 million TIF might argue that the purpose of tax incremental financing isn't job creation -- it's expanding the property tax base. But who says we can't have both?
UPDATE: Chris Norris commented on my Flickr stream: "After reading the letter today from the managers of various downtown hotels concerning the Edgewater project, it's really hard for me to see it as a good thing." The letter may be self-serving, but it makes a lot of good points. Check it out at the link.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Doug Moe recently had an interesting column in the Wisconsin State Journal about what might be the most notorious painting in Madison, once thought lost -- this portrait above the fireplace in the new Wonder Bar, recently restored to what he called "its unique ambiance, which included the painting." Moe didn't show the painting but referred to Raphael Kadushin's restaurant review in Isthmus and the photo that accompanied it.
Kadushin describes the painting in a passage that also references his waitress, Lana, and the Wonder Bar's original owner, mob-connected Eddie Touhy: "Above the big stone fireplace is the portrait of a busty '60s pinup, Angelina Jolie crossed with Ann-Margaret, whose eyes inevitably follow you (according to Lana, she's one of the sisters who owned the bar long after Eddie decamped)."Since the photo accompanying Kadushin's review in the print edition was mine, I thought that as a public service I would go in and enlarge the painting itself, so readers can revel in all its original tacky kitsch -- which would definitely do Tony Soprano proud. Check out Moe's column for more about the painting, its history, and who painted it.
Not for the first time, I've got a few bones to pick with The New York Times. Can't they assign a copy editor who knows something about photography to write the head for a review of one of the most historic photo exhibits in a long time? "America, captured in a flash"???!!! Why would you use the word "flash" to describe the work of a pioneer of available light street photography like Robert Frank? And why "in a flash" to describe a yearlong odyssey, one of the defining works of the 1950s, the legendary 1959 book "The Americans," almost a perfect companion piece to Jack Kerouac's "On The Road"? (Shown above: "Elevator -- Miami Beach).
Times art critic Holland Cotter is a good writer, but everybody has an off day. He begins with a classic example of stretching to find an offbeat lede appropriate to the subject:
Like probably a zillion other school kids, “My country tears of thee” was the way I understood the first line of “America.” Maybe that’s the way the Swiss-born photographer Robert Frank heard it too when he came to the United States from Europe in 1947, at 22, with English his second, third or fourth language.I don't know anyone who ever heard it that way. A kid would be more likely to drop the "t" and hear it as "is of thee," and in any case, pass over it as archaic language that can be ignored. Why on earth would Robert Frank hear it in this idiosyncratic way? Whatever. Nobody's perfect.
Other than that, Cotter provides a good, thoughtful review of a major exhibit, and you can read it here (there's also a slide show, a multimedia feature and other references). Cotter does a good job of writing about what made the work such a landmark, and why its relevance has only deepened with time.
And how does the “The Americans” come across today? In the nominally post-racial Obama era, its political urgencies feel less immediate than they once did, but also prophetic. Its mournful tenderness, without being sentimental, seems deeper than ever. The days and nights it records are more than a half-century gone. The preacher, the nurse, the woman hidden by the flag, the sharp-eyed woman and the tearful black man on the trolley are, you imagine, gone.If you can get to New York, go. If not, a new, 50th anniversary edition of "The Americans" was published earlier this year in conjunction with the first showing of the exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. After that it traveled to San Francisco, and now the Met is it's last stop. It's either that or the book. Or both.
What’s left is a still-strange country and a book of pictures by a foreigner who came to America impulsively, traveled our roads restlessly, and by not fully knowing our language heard it correctly and told us, the way we could not, truths about ourselves.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
The fog turned Lake Wingra into a blank, motionless gray canvas, punctuated just by a the slow moves of a few ducks and the occasional fishermen who ventured out in their boats. Everything else was still, waiting for the sun to come back. A quiet and meditative scene. View Large On Black
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
I was flying back to Madison from Reagan National Airport over the weekend and hoped to make a cell phone call while waiting for my flight. But the noise was too great. There was a brass band a couple of gates away, a big crowd of cheering people, and as I saw when I got closer, they were waving American flags. Still a little irritated by the noise and disruption, I asked what all the fuss was about. The crowd was welcoming a group of World War II veterans flown to DC by Honor Flight Network, an organization that flies WWII veterans to the nation's capital who would not otherwise be able to visit the WWII memorial. Just then, the veterans started coming out, and all my irritation fled.
It was an incredible scene. There were about a hundred vets on this flight, mostly older white guys, two women and a couple of black guys. All were at least in their eighties, and a few were older. They seemed representative of any group of people that age. Some were disabled, some were in wheelchairs, but most walked proudly on their own. One danced a little impromptu jig. People waved their flags and reached out to thank them for their service. On their faces were a wide range of expressions, many of them playing out on the face of this old paratrooper (view Large), a member of the famous One Hundred and First Airborne.
Many had a faraway look in their eyes, as if looking back at memories of events that took place years before most in the welcoming crowd were even born, terrible events which they were lucky to survive, but in which they lost friends and which marked them for life. I'm not sure any war can really considered a "good war," but these veterans served in the last one that even came close. They deserve all the honors we can bestow on them.
Monday, September 21, 2009
I've been traveling on business and now I've got the flu, but I did want to mention this before I conk out and go back to bed: When I came back to my Best Western Downtown in Charleston after dinner the other night, there were two women who looked to be in their late thirties smoking up a storm on the bench outside the entrance. Squeezed between them were two huge eyes timidly looking out at the world from a tiny, long head.
"His name is Boo Boo," one of the women said. "He's a Katrina dog. He was born during the hurricane." Turns they were sisters who lived together in Columbia, SC, and they had adopted Boo Boo, who had found his way to Oklahoma City. They paid to have the terrified little guy flown to them. "He was so scared. When we looked in his cage we couldn't even see him. He was curled up way at the back."
Not long after they got Boo Boo home, he needed spinal surgery. "The pain was so bad he just cried all the time."
The surgery cost $3,000 they didn't have. "Relatives chipped in $500. We got a loan for the rest," she said. "But we can't do it again, so we worry..."
Love takes so many forms. Sometimes the news these days is so depressing you just want to give up on humans as a species. And then you come across someone like these two kind women investing all they've got and more in this tiny, traumatized creature.