Thursday, January 17, 2008

Freedom Center "Controversy"

Over at the Enquirer's Politics Extra Blog, Jessica Brown has a more balanced version of the story surrounding the Freedom Center's offer to sell part of its land to Hamilton County and the City of Cincinnati than what we've been hearing from the media the last few days.

For those of you who haven't been paying attention: the Freedom Center is built on land given to it by the city and the county. Included in the gift is a 1.7 acre parcel of land between the Center and the Ohio River that the Center had intended to develop as a park. But the Freedom Center has never had enough money to do so so the land, like the rest of the area next to the riverfront, has sat fallow for several years. Now, the Banks Working Group wants the land to use as part of the Banks. The Freedom Center offered to sell the land back to the city and the county for $1 million, with each sovereign to apparently foot half the bill.

Based on the histrionics coming from the county commission, I'd assumed that the offer had come out of the blue. But that's not so, based on Brown's report:

The Freedom Center says it had been negotiating the $1 million price tag with the Banks Working Group since last summer. It had two assessments done that
actually placed the land at a much higher value. It says the negotiations were
in good faith and everyone seemed to think the request was reasonable.The
Working Group includes representatives from both the city and the county, so
none of the elected officials should have been surprised at the request, which
was reduced to writing Dec. 31, said Freedom Center's Paul Bernish.City council
wasn't surprised. Some council members even said they thought the Center would
ask for more. But somehow commissioners were caught off guard.

Of course, this whole episode is a PR nightmare for the Freedom Center (that seems to be Bronson's main point today). But I'm not sure that the Freedom Center's board has had much of a choice but to act the way it has. After all, the board has a fiduciary obligation to protect the assets of the Freedom Center, a non-profit organization. One of those assets is a highly marketable, very expensive piece of real estate. Giving it away would be financially irresponsible. If the Freedom Center weren't an entity, and were instead just some guy named Bob, and the county wasn't--well, the county, but instead just some guy named Fred, then you'd expect that Bob, upon realizing he couldn't use the land Fred had given him, would give it back to Fred if Fred had found a good use for it. But we're not talking about Bob and Fred; we're talking about local government and a non-profit organization. It's not as easy as our commissioners have made it out to be in their efforts to placate COAST. There may ultimately be a better way to resolve this than to simply take a pile of money from the city and the county, but everyone needs to take a deep breath and calm down.

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