The rhetoric around the Oakwood project is starting to get silly.
Opponents of the development are distributing information that says it will destroy the community, which strikes me as hyperbole. And they’ve declared that because nobody is denying a rumor that Wal-Mart will occupy the space, then it’s a done deal that Wal-Mart will occupy the space – which strikes me as premature and largely irrelevant. (Nobody denies the space will be occupied by some major big-box retail chain; and really, how is one more or less objectionable than another?)
But the movement against the development seems to be getting under the skin of First Interstate President Mitchell Schneider, who until now has been a gentleman in his rhetoric.
In the Plain Dealer on March 9, he referred to his opponents as a “small, vocal, somewhat fringe minority” – which leads me to wonder what percentage of mainstream constitutes “somewhat fringe.” While some of the personalities taking a lead in opposing the development may be less polished than Schneider, I’ve heard from enough people who don’t want this development to believe the sentiment is anything but fringe.
I don’t view Schneider as a bad guy in this drama. He is a developer, doing what developers do: Turning vacant land into occupied land for which others will pay rent. I’ve never met him, I’ve never sought him out for a conversation; and I’ve already stated that as a developer he’s better than most in that he seems to keep promises, and he’s the rare breed willing to put up his own money to get a project started.
But he also seems to be taking off the gloves now, and it’s going to test his credibility.
For example, in the same Plain Dealer article, someone complained that comments from First Interstate employees were stricken from the Facebook site dedicated to preserving Oakwood. As if an organization built around a specific cause is obligated to give voice to its opponents.
Who lodged this complaint? Count the sources in the story and you’ll reach the conclusion that the whining came from Schneider himself.
More telling is the attempt by First Interstate to gauge public sentiment about the project. In a mailer sent to a reported 13,000 residents (You can see it here: Oakwood Commons mailer) Schneider included a postcard; he asked those who favored the project to check “Yes” and mail it in.
About 170 people did; for direct mail, that kind of response rate isn’t awful, but it is underwhelming.
Another 20 or so people used the postcard as an opportunity to voice their displeasure – an option that First Interstate’s mailing never offered. Here’s the thought process of one person who received the mailer and chose not to respond at all.
You can see the actual postcard here; it’s a wonder anyone used it to say “No”
Such a trial balloon is normal and reasonable, as long as it’s used in context. But the address printed on this post-card is that of the South Euclid zoning department (I don’t know who paid the postage); each response is now being touted as evidence of near-unanimous support for Schneider’s project – a conclusion that strikes me as stretching the very fabric of reality.
And if you want a better view of what Schneider is willing to defend as “preservation,” take a look at the photos – in his own Oakwood Commons mailer – of the preservation at Cleveland’s Steelyard Commons. I’ve been to that development (though I’m getting less likely to ever go there again); there are some industrial artifacts, but this is not the kind of green space anybody uses.
I’ve never wanted to see big box development on the Oakwood site. But I felt far more charitable to Schneider and his company before they began defending it.