For the first time since this issue has raised its ugly head, representatives from the publishers' group, the Downtown Development Authority, the Downtown Business Association, and the City of Fort Collins sat down together and, for the most part, civilly discussed the newspaper bin situation. (Those who have no idea what that situation might be can go here for a somewhat out-dated idea.)
When we left off prior to today, council had spent over two hours during a January 8 work session having a heated discussion about news bins, corrals and newspaper condos, with no real conclusion. Councilman Kelly Ohlsen compared the newspapers' defense of our First Amendment right to distribute to protecting the right to yell "Fire!" in a theater, saying anyone who goes with the publishers is an "idiot." It became clear that the city felt it was acting as a mediator.
So ... today we met with an actual mediator, Martin Carcasson from the CSU Center for Public Deliberation. And he put out fires — or, rather, prevented fires.
Turns out, as we always knew, city staff has no issues with our bins other than the DBA/DDA's issues, which, those groups claim, represent the issues of downtown businesses. And those issues, succinctly summed up, are maintenance and, as Chip Steiner of the DDA puts it, "They're damn ugly." That's it, summed up from their end. They're not even concerned about the number of cluster locations in Old Town — as long as they aren't our boxes but condos instead.
Not much to negotiate about "damn ugly." I mean, I don't think they're damn ugly. No sense in trying to convince somebody our black bins are hot. There's some unfinished artwork in Old Town I find not so eye-pleasing. We all see things differently there. No changing that.
The other issue, maintenance, I feel is addressed in our voluntary agreement, wherein publishers take responsibility for maintenance with a rapid-response team to address immediate issues and an ongoing plan for upkeep. We have the same upkeep requirements as the city-proposed ordinance. But the DDA/DBA love that the condos are on a pedestal, a raised, two-footed platform that can be swept under. My suggestion, that we build a pedestal for our bins, was only met with laughter.
Then Steiner called me "nuts." Rather, he said that if I think our bins add to our uniqueness and attract readers, rather than the window displaying the cover, then "You're nuts." Both, actually, are true. But I may still be nuts.
After the meeting ran over, we hurriedly left with promises to go back to our respective groups with this new understanding of each others' points, needs and willingness to move toward compromise, and will reconvene to see if compromise is possible.
This issue may never die. For now, I need a drink.