Morris Island has been spared the latest development attempt. The news is here, and some analysis is here.
I have been in many a civic coalition: I'm in a civic struggle right now, as you read this. Civic organizations can expend masses of energy running down the wrong road and then avoid confronting the mistakes of the campaign just concluded. The way to do this is pass out the kudos and share the good feelings.
The Morris Island campaign, seen from this distance, does not encourage me.
The Morris Island Coalition spokesman is full of praise for Civil War Preservation Trust:
I told their board of trustees then that I truly felt that the Morris Island Coalition would not have succeeded in helping to preserve the island had it not been for the role played by the Civil War Preservation Trust. Their star glows brightest of all.Note the apportioning of credit here: the Coalition succeeded and CWPT was key to the Coalition succeeding. And yet the same author makes the interesting observation that
Mayor Riley volunteered to contact Bobby Ginn and ask him to allow the island to be purchased by the preservation community. To his immense credit, Mr. Ginn readily agreed...Get this, my friends: Riley steps in, calls on a friendship, and all this monumental sturm and drang ceases instantly. Riley asks a developer with an option to buy the property to exercise the option and sell the land to preservationists at a discount. The developer agrees! Crisis finished without reference to the Coalition and all its efforts.
And CWPT gets the credit of being key to the Coalition's success. I love it.
May I point out, in all humility, that the sale price of this place, a price that was so onerous as to generate a crisis, could have been paid at the outset, in a trice, by CWPT? Read their financials online; look at their assets. The cost of Morris Island matches hardly a quarter of their assets, which they could have mortgaged and paid off later out of dues or contributions.
We had a Morris Island crisis because of the way CWPT chooses to do the business of preservation.
Let that sink in.
Joe Riley stepped in after endless commotion and found a buyer less parsimonious than CWPT. Ginn will pay $6 million for the land and sell it for $4.5 million. Ginn will take the loss for Civil War buffs. And we now face a hugely complex disposition phase that could keep me and you off the ground.
All because CWPT did not want to lay out the asking price, own the island privately, and welcome tourists on terms friendly to battlefield visitors.
The Morris Island Coalition has done hard work - did it fight the battle in the right places? Did it enlist the right allies? Not if it all came down to Riley. Well, then, any port in a storm. But spare us the back patting.
I think I made it clear in this blog that the very first stop in this controversy should have been Riley's office, not CWPT's. I also lambasted CWPT for antagonizing the seller, just as they outraged the owner of Mullins Farm in Chancellorsville, endangering that site.
If CWPT's participation ultimately mobilized Riley, great. But this deal was done by a seasoned politician doing what seasoned politicians do best: impose on friendships and ask for favors. Simple stuff. Effective.
The real value begins now. Put the champagne away, guys, because saving Morris Island does not just mean saving it from housing it also means saving it for Civil War tourism.
If you can pull that off, I'll name my next child Morris Island Coalition.
(See also my Morris Island: Joe Riley bestirs himself and Morris Island - let's take heart)