April 24, 2007

West Louisville: Closed for business?

West Broadway: A sign in the window of Lee’s Famous Recipe, 21st and West Broadway, lists businesses that will be open during Derby weekend.The City’s blanket policy to curb cruising has left some business owners — and the West Broadway Vendor’s Fair — without a home for Derby weekend. One of Karl Marx’s maxims is that history occurs twice — the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce. But come Derby weekend in West Louisville, that adage plays out in reverse.There was never a uniform agreement on West Broadway festivities. And much like the St. James Art Fair, an annual headache for many Old Louisville residents, much of West Louisville never welcomed the noise, trash and foot traffic of thousands in their neighborhood as cruising melded with sanctioned Derby events. Still, in the beginning, West Louisville’s Derby was a hearty mix of colorful cars, barbeque cookouts and neighborhood festivities.What has happened since is not so idyllic.Leading to the recent cancellation of the West Broadway Vendor’s Fair has been a series of public farces, from cruising itself to the maddening debate over it to the failed attempt by Christopher 2X and local hip-hoppers to legitimize cruising to, finally, last year’s full-scale closing of West Broadway.No imaginative solutions have been put forward at any turn. Rather, a blanket policy to close West Broadway — between 9th and 34th streets, agreed to by the City and Louisville Metro Police — will be enacted for the second straight year, and once again, some West Louisville businesses and residents are being punished for something they loathe just as much as the officers trying to contain cruisers.It is ironic that those who argued against cruising based on safety and moral reasons have — as a result of their advocacy — helped extinguish the safest and most family-oriented event in West Louisville during Derby weekend. More sardonic is what has been driven off of Broadway: Last year cruisers had, and used, endless access to smaller side streets.Closing such a major thoroughfare in the heart of a black community was a blunt move that had both predictable and unforeseen consequences. The city should have known, given Louisville’s racial history, that such a decision would arouse charges by the civil rights community that West Louisville was being treated as a zoo, a colony and a plantation. Instead of adopting a surgical policy, a collective punishment was implemented. That inhibited cruisers, residents, visitors and businesses alike. That line of thinking continues to miss the obvious and important cultural distinctions among the West Louisville populace.The genuine drought for West Louisville businesses last Derby is the impetus of a new lawsuit filed against Metro by the Justice Resource Center and a group of West Louisville businesses. At a hearing Monday, a federal judge delayed the case for another week. The judge could order the city to change its traffic plan.Lacking that, the drought will return this year. With the loss of the Vendor’s Fair — a decision made by its proprietors, who say a closed West Broadway, the prospect of little business and an undesirable location forced their hand — it appears the situation is deteriorating further.For the West Broadway Vendor’s Fair, location is everything. And since everything used to happen on and around Broadway in West Louisville’s Derby festivities, relegating the Vendor’s Fair to the old Philip Morris parking lot last year was a critical blow. Losing the position on Broadway slowed the Vendor’s Fair to a crawl, with many pledging never to return to the Derby City. Cruising — specifically, the two shootings (one fatal) two years ago — has put a premium on a broad (and arguably unclear) safety standard being pushed hard by the city, police and some residents. The majority who cried to end it at all costs have come to regret their position, according to Argie Dale, who along with Bill Price has organized the Vendor’s Fair since 2003. “We bought into the idea of safety wholesale,” said Dale. “But the Vendor’s Fair had no issue of safety.” Dale and Price are frustrated. Since last year they’ve searched for a better location to assuage safety concerns (that they never had before) while maintaining an optimal position closer to Broadway. The Philip Morris property is no longer owned by the city, so even that mud hole was a scratch. One of the places Dale and Price hoped to hold this year’s Vendor’s Fair was the old Winn-Dixie location at 28th & Broadway.“The LMPD said we could not use the old Winn-Dixie lot,” Dale said. The reasons given were never detailed or explained thoroughly, he said, but “Chief White said it couldn’t be controlled.” Officer Dwight Mitchell, an LMPD spokesman, said Chief White determined there were “large security concerns” with that location. Dale said police also suggested Whayne Supply, at the end of Cecil Avenue past 40th Street, more than eight blocks south of Broadway.“It really has nothing to do with us until they decide where to have it,” Mitchell told LEO. He said the LMPD’s prerogative is simply to handle public safety issues, reiterating that it was Dale’s decision to cancel the fair this year.Chad Carlton, a spokesman for Mayor Abramson, told LEO that the city and police offered Dale several locations, including the Nia Center. “We certainly are not opposed to a vendor’s fair,” he said. “It’s the issue of, how do you manage that type of event safely and effectively?”On Monday, police started handing out some 25,000 passes to West Louisville residents and business owners, allowing them to pass through the roadblocks cordoning West Broadway Derby weekend.  Contact the writer at leo@leoweekly.com