By Ben Sutherly
Editor’s Note: This column is in response to a column submitted by Troy Mayor Robin Oda.
Robin Oda, on this one point we agree: We both want West Main Street reopened as soon as possible.
To claim you are “powerless” to bring this legal saga to an end, however, is the greatest misrepresentation in a column full of them – most intended to discredit the Troy Historic Preservation Alliance (THPA). Many of our past mayors did not throw up their hands and claim to be “powerless” when faced with challenges like this one; they looked around, reassessed, and tried something different.
Ms. Oda, your administration is bent on being right instead of doing the right thing – and our downtown is suffering as a result. For years, you have ignored repeated requests to sit down with other stakeholders and find a solution to the mess on West Main. I have personally urged you at many city council meetings to consider collaboration – the fastest way to reopen West Main Street.
THPA, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that advocates for the preservation, restoration, and repurposing of our city’s historic places, is not a party to the current legal battle over the fate of the old Miami County courthouse/IOOF building. However, we recognize that it will have major implications for our culture of stewardship in downtown Troy.
You accuse our organization of engaging in false narratives. Ms. Oda, if something THPA says does not match what you hear in your echo chamber, that does not make it false. In truth, much of our work is rooted in public records requests – bringing forth facts that otherwise might never see the light of day. We are committed to making sure the public has the complete story. We have shared, for example, that the scofflaw owner of the old courthouse/IOOF building received more than $320,000 in insurance proceeds that could have been used to repair the building and reopen the sidewalk years ago. (It is telling that your column makes no mention of the property owner’s role in this debacle.) We also are committed to being part of a “fiscally responsible/realistic solution”, offering to repair the parapet and soliciting pledges to help with repairs.
Your column also falsely claims that the court-appointed expert witness in this case stated that “demolishing [the building] and rebuilding new is the only way forward.” He made no such statement.
Troy Fire Chief Matt Simmons’ deposition sheds new light on critical decisions made in June that led to the closing of West Main Street. Yes, Ms. Oda, we understand the power to close the street rests with Service and Safety Director Patrick Titterington. During his deposition, however, Simmons testified that he recommended to Titterington that West Main Street be closed due to alleged safety concerns about the building. It is entirely appropriate to examine the factors that went into Simmons’ recommendation, given its role in decisions that have hurt many downtown businesses and inconvenienced countless others. This is not “confusing the public”; it is accountability to the public. Miami County’s chief building official is scheduled to be deposed later this month, and no doubt his actions will be scrutinized, too.
“Chief hand-wringer” and “chief finger-pointer” are not qualities that Troy needs in its mayor. We need leaders willing to roll up their sleeves, bring a broad coalition together, and try a different approach. This is true not only for our city leaders, but also for our Miami County commissioners and county prosecutor.
Ms. Oda, you doubt our commitment to being a proactive part of restoring the economic vibrancy of downtown Troy? We encourage you to join us on November 28 for Heritage Ohio’s downtown revitalization workshop here in Miami County – an event that THPA is cosponsoring in collaboration with Main Street Piqua, Troy Main Street, Troy Community Works, the Downtown Tipp City Partnership, the Miami County Development Department, and others. Meanwhile, our board of volunteers will continue to live our commitment to downtown every day – through our work with this organization and countless others.
The writer is the president of the Troy Historic Preservation Alliance.