Monday, April 5, 2010

Save Property Rights, not the Alabama

For years preservationists have been trying to "save" the old Alabama Theater on Shepherd. It now appears that the interior of the building will be stripped on its funky Art Deco accoutrements and prepared for a prospective tenant (rumored to be Staples). The Chronicle, along with the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance, is pushing for Alamo Drafthouse, a chain that shows movies and serves dinner and adult beverages, to open a location in the Alabama:
We'd love to see the Alabama returned to its glory as a theater.
Nobody is stopping the Chronicle from making this come true. All they have to do is negotiate a lease with the property owner and pony up the money. But putting their money where their mouth is isn't the Chronicle's style. Rather than reach for their wallet, they prefer to reach for a gun--or more accurately, they prefer to encourage the city to reach for its gun:
Most cities aggressively protect the handful of places that make them special. Houston doesn't. We offer incentives to make stadium deals work for sports teams. Why not make historic preservation more attractive to business? So far, Houston has taken only tentative steps in that direction. We need to do better. And we need to start soon, while there's something left to protect.
Consider the nifty little trick the paper plays here. Since the city is offering bribes to sports teams, the city should also offer incentives to other businesses to preserve historic buildings. And what is the nature of those "incentives"? "Aggressive" protection, which means ordinances that dictate and control how a property owner may use his property. This type of "incentive" is akin to a thug sticking a gun into your ribs to "encourage" you to hand over your money.

Once again the paper looks to other cities and cries, "We should be more like them." Other cities protect old buildings, and Houston should do the same. Other cities have mass transit, and Houston should emulate them. Other cities control land use, billboards, and myriad other activities, and if Houston wants to be a "world-class city", we must follow suit.

The Chronicle believes it proper to dictate to property owners, to mandate how they can use their property, to prohibit uses those some don't like. No matter the problem, real or imaginary, large or small, the paper's inevitable solution is more government controls.

Conveniently ignored in this endless plea for more government intervention into our lives is the fact that other cities have driven housing costs through the roof, that other cities are losing jobs and citizens, that increased government controls are destructive to individual freedom and prosperity. The paper and other advocates of government intervention evade the reasons why Houston housing is among the most affordable in the nation and why the city has been among the nation's leaders in job creation--the relative lack of government intervention.

The Alabama Theater is certainly a unique and fun building. But no building in Houston is worth saving at the expense of our property rights--the owners have a moral right to do as they choose with their property. If the paper truly wants to preserve something, property rights would be a great place to start.

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