The Price of Indulgence

While touring the seventh-floor offices of the $185 million, clean-energy-themed City Hall—the building’s undulating wall design is a nod to hydroelectric power, while the photovoltaic trees out front speak to a future in solar power—media members took a moment to visit Councilman Bob Coffin’s new office.

Turns out, Coffin will have a beautiful view of the reopening of F Street, another $8.5 million taxpayer outlay, one that Coffin was the sole Council member to oppose. While sitting in the energy-efficient building in his reupholstered chair (“Furniture was re-used at a great cost savings,” Mayor Carolyn Goodman boasted), he can watch the government unbuild a freeway wall it built four years ago.

When the wall was erected, planners didn’t give enough consideration to the “psychological message” it sent to the historically disenfranchised F Street neighborhood by blocking it from the new, upscale Symphony Park. The new development is anchored by The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, which opens next month, and is meant to draw money and energy downtown.

F Street community activists turned up at a Council meeting on Feb. 15 to explain to Coffin that morally, the government must fix its mistake, regardless of cost. Coffin stood his ground, calling F Street “a road to nowhere”—although it remains to be seen which side will be “nowhere”; there are no guarantees in this economy. The mayor and some other Council members agreed with him that reopening F Street was a tragic waste of money, but they didn’t want to be responsible for sending the wrong psychological message.

Messages, however mixed, are important. Sometimes we ignore them, as in the case of a man who reportedly had a heart attack while eating at the Heart Attack Grill downtown. Sometimes the messages capitalize on misfortune—as in the case of that restaurant relying on the media to trumpet its controversial shtick, or a city turning its criminal history into a $42 million Mob Museum.

A sign in that Mob Museum speaks volumes about our conflicted nature. It’s a quote from Al Capone, who was talking about liquor during Prohibition, but some messages seem to apply more universally, particularly when it comes to Las Vegas: Give the people what they want.