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April 22, 2008

Representin’ (A Column about the Metro Council): A bloody dilemma

What’s worse than a strip club in the neighborhood? A blood bank?Andrew Owen thinks it would be better to have a strip joint open across the street from his property on Fourth Street than a plasma center.For weeks, Owen, the son and business partner of Metro Councilman Tom Owen, D-8, has actively campaigned with neighbors to prevent a plasma center from opening in a building at 2420 S. Fourth St. “I’m assuming I’ll have them as a neighbor,” Owen lamented. “I’d prefer anything but that; I’d rather have a strip club. Even a bar is better because of the perception of this type of business. It labels the neighborhood.”Owen said statistics from the Louisville Metro Police Department, presented at a Metro Council meeting last month, indicate that blood banks are magnets for criminal activity. He believes plasma centers attract the sort of low-income low-lifes who deter other businesses from setting up shop. Owen wants to build a $30 million privately owned student housing project across the street.The LMPD presented crime statistics near blood banks at 352 E. Market St., 1517 Crums Lane, 1407 W. Jefferson St., 5037 and 5067 Preston St., and 630 E. Broadway, showing numerous incidences of illegal activity. That was enough for Marianne Butler, D-15, whose Metro Council district includes Owen’s property. She introduced an ordinance last month to prohibit building and demolition permits in the area until a study of the neighborhood, under way since November, is completed. But critics complain that Butler’s moratorium idea is simply an effort to stop PlasmaCare, the Cincinnati-based firm that operates 14 centers in seven states, from opening a new location on Fourth Street.The issue was introduced a month ago, and voting on it was tabled at a Metro Council meeting last week. It is on the agenda for a vote this Thursday, and as of Monday night Butler said she was working to get the votes to pass it.She said area residents need time to see the results of the neighborhood study, and that they have been forced to spend too much time fighting various unwanted businesses — including bars and adult entertainment businesses.“If they’re not fighting these businesses, they can concentrate more on business plans for the area rather than going to BOZA hearings,” she said, adding that she prefers that the corridor between downtown and Churchill Downs not have a plasma center on its main drag.The fate of Butler’s ordinance, however, is uncertain. Attorney Glenn Price, who represents the estate of Vern Ferguson, owner of the property that may soon house PlasmaCare, said he doesn’t believe Butler’s ordinance has the votes to pass. The council’s 11 Republicans are united against it. Tom Owen, citing a conflict of interest over his ownership of the property with his sons, will abstain. That leaves 14 potential votes, but several Democrats have expressed opposition as well. Council president Jim King, D-10, said on Monday that he believed the proposal would be withdrawn.Andrew Owen said he doesn’t want the moratorium to pass either, because he wants to demolish a warehouse on his property in the next 60 days. He scoffed at accusations leveled at his father last week that the Owen family business was pressuring Butler to move on.PlasmaCare Inc. has been lobbying the Metro Council, supplying information on its centers in other cities and its willingness to invest $500,000 in a business that will serve 1,200 donors monthly.Price said the business requires that its donors are between 18 and 66, weigh at least 110 pounds and have a local address. It tests for various drugs and disease and rejects candidates who do not pass.“With plasma centers, the bad ones can be bad but there are those that are innocuous and have no real presence except the building,” Price said.While PlasmaCare officials have lobbied the Metro Council, providing a professional information packet and a DVD, they haven’t reached out to neighbors. Jackie Pennington, president of the South Central Business Association, has her own impression of blood banks — she remembered one at Broadway and Clay Street.“I do not approve of the blood bank. You often find people do loiter and have objectionable behavior in those places,” she said. “I’m not saying everybody that donates blood there is a bad person, but some will have issues. It should be in an urban area downtown, not near somebody’s home.”But Pennington acknowledged that if PlasmaCare had presented its case to her, she might have changed her position. Contact the writer at citystrobe@leoweekly.com