What’s the price of stupidity?
Apparently, $25 million.
That’s how much Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren cost her city yesterday with a stupid answer to a reporter’s question.
Essentially asked if her city owed any gratitude to billionaire Tom Golisano for his offer of $25 million to help build a Broadway-style performing-arts center, she intimated gratitude doesn’t kick in unless he paid for the whole thing.
Eighty million gets you some sway, but 25 million gets you nothing.
Then she stared at the television reporter. If you listened very carefully, you could hear Golisano picking up his $25 million and leaving town.
Because the mayor’s stupid.
It’s that simple.
The issue is the 20-year effort of the Rochester Broadway Theater League to build a new theater to host traveling plays. The old Masonic hall on East Main, built in the 1920s, is majestic but worn, historic but small. Good plays go there, but not big plays. And the RBTL wants to change that for the future. And so it is that for two decades the idea of a performing-arts center has bounced around, from politician to politician and project to project. And the dream lives on today, somewhere in that gray area between determination and delusion.
When it came out that Paychex founder Tom Golisano had offered to pay one-third of the estimated $75 million price tag to build a new theater. For the first time in the history of the project, there was cash on the barrel head. First the RBTL and then Golisano himself notified City Hall of his pledge – last fall – and then the issue became where to build it.
Rochester has convinced itself – in much the same way some people have convinced themselves that solar power is viable – that its future lies in turning its dead downtown into a walkable urban village peopled by millennials living in high-priced condos carved from the innards of empty office buildings. In furtherance of that vision, the city demolished its largest and best-maintained retail space and turned it into a large empty lot known as Parcel 5.
Parcel 5 is right next door to the largely empty little building where the newspaper, behind a temporary sign, assures itself and its dwindling readers that is relevant, viable and still going to be here in five years. Likewise, Parcel 5 is across the street from the hulk of a mostly empty building into which limitless amounts of taxpayer subsidy have been poured.
Like too many urban-development projects, it’s long on hyperventilation and short on accomplishment.
And the RBTL would like to be smack in the middle of it.
God only knows why.
But the thinking is that, as part of some resurgence that is always just around the corner, putting the theater in the gap-tooth hole at Parcel 5 is the answer. At least that’s the thinking of the theater league and, probably, of Tom Golisano.
The mayor, though, is not so sure.
Working on the certitude that government knows better than the marketplace what private development should go where, the mayor has a process in place whereby supplicants make proposals to City Hall for the use of Parcel 5. And by “supplicants,” I mean “campaign donors,” but that’s probably just a coincidence.
At any rate, Tom Golisano isn’t one of the chosen few.
And a proposal to put the performing-arts center at Parcel 5 is apparently not under consideration.
Which led a television reporter yesterday to ask the mayor why not. If the big man is willing to put up the big bucks, shouldn’t the idea at least be looked at?
Specifically, the reporter compared Tom Golisano to the area’s last big philanthropist – George Eastman – and asked if George Eastman would have been told, “No” without a hearing.
Lovely Warren responded that George Eastman wouldn’t have pledged $25 million, he would have pledged $80 million. And under those circumstances, she said, “We wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
That roughly translates to, “Screw you, Golisano.”
Why did the mayor say that?
Because she’s stupid.
Anybody who looks a $25 million gift horse in the mouth is stupid.
And has just kissed those $25 million good bye.
Tom Golisano is his own man, and he does what makes sense to him. But anybody who has watched his occasional disagreements with government knows that he puts principle first and foremost. You screw him over on a property assessment, and he’ll spend whatever lawyer fees are necessary to fight that assessment. Why? Because he doesn’t believe in standing still when you are mistreated.
And yesterday he was mistreated.
So I think his $25 million went away yesterday.
Either to suburban Henrietta, where the town supervisor knows how to say, “Thank you;” or to the next mayoral administration, when Rochester will be led by someone familiar with the concept of courtesy.