How important is a building to the City?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 6, 2002

This is about the old beat-up, rundown, decrepit, teeny-weeny bank building over on East Washington that looked so forlorn it makes me cry.

Many would choke on a snigger if they heard it described as a bank. The vaults in most modern banks are bigger than that building. The lower floor has become a Chinese take-out with a long lease and no one knows if the second floor is safe enough to walk on. Yet, for some strange reason, not yet announced, the city of Suffolk wants to own it.

Now golf courses and Portsmouth water lines are one thing, valuable in their own right, but this sorry-looking structure can hardly be portrayed as important to future of the city or its citizens.

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The man who recently bought it for himself scratched his head when the deed was &uot;done&uot; and wondered why he had made the previous owner an offer he couldn’t refuse. The two had dickered on the phone, closed the deal honorably with their word, and a certified check went in the mail. The News Herald pictured Andy Damiani, the buyer, standing in front of his acquisition. I asked Andy why he bought it and he confessed he couldn’t help it, it was a habit, and the price was right.

I recall my conversation with Damaini. He said, &uot;I called Mr. Jackson who lives in Brooklyn and he almost begged me to buy it. He had inherited it, had never seen it, didn’t know exactly where it was, and was surprised that anyone would want it.&uot;

Andy probably said he wanted the ground under it because there is no other reason unless one wanted his own safe for important papers and didn’t trust banks that keep swallowing each other. But Andy made a big mistake and told an assistant city manager. That set off a chain of events that I assume caused Elizabeth McCrory to get on the phone to Brooklyn with the encouragement of Steve Herbert, who must have pointed out why it was imperative for the city to own the building. Andy’s check of good faith took a return flight and flew back to his post office box causing Andy to wonder what had changed Mr. Jackson’s mind.

Then his mistake dawned on him; he had trusted his fellow man. It’s not so important &uot;what&uot; had changed Jackson’s mind, a man I now consider not so honorable, but &uot;who&uot; had changed his mind. Could it have been Elizabeth McCrory whose position as a city employee is to be coordinator between city government and downtown business people? It hardly makes sense that she would take part in making Mr. Downtown Damiani the screwee. Would that enhance her credibility with downtown merchants?

Andy Damiani is the man who holds the Downtown organization together and has held many very important city government offices including mayor. Then who would be brazen enough to engineer the cute trick of causing Jackson to reconsider?

I’m sure it wasn’t Assistant City Managers Jim Vacalis or Cindy Rolf. All one had to do was tell Jackson that the city was about to spend a lot of money on East Washington and the Fairgrounds, that he could probably get a lot more money for his historic junkpile if he would send Andy’s check back and just hold out awhile longer.

If this be true, doesn’t this kind of city action make you proud of your government? Oh yes, there was some talk about Councilman Brown wanting the city to own the bank for an African-American museum and surely Jackson would understand that.

City acts of that nature trigger other questions: Who will gain if a different cable provider were to take over if it were possible to kick Charter Cable out no matter what it cost Suffolk in court? Is there any hanky-panky involved in selecting the location for the new Post Office? Only two men are holding up the transfer of 140 acres to the Indians who are eager to develop that Lone Star Lakes real estate? There’s room for both the Indian Village and a city marina on that 1,200 acres. Our Historical Society and the Tourist Bureau understand the need for the project.

Enough dawdling, Council should force action before we lose the opportunity. Grants are available and tomtoms are beating.

nnn

The boys and girl on the Council did the right thing by reinstating Dana Dickens as mayor. He has developed relationships with the right people at the state level, and has experience with the mayoral reins. Good move.

Robert Pocklington lives in Suffolk and is a regular News-Herald columnist.