At various times last year there were people suggesting that Drew Hastings should step down as mayor when he was under investigation for a variety of allegations that turned out to be less than convincing to a judge and a jury.
The calls for him to resign, or for city council to “do something about it,” were particularly disappointing in a nation where everyone is supposedly deemed innocent until proven guilty.
But as we move through 2017 and city council decides how aggressively it will pursue a variety of initiatives, Drew may be tempted to ask himself at some point whether he can best serve Hillsboro as mayor or as a private citizen.
Let’s put it another way: Could Drew Hastings do more for Hillsboro as a private citizen than he will be allowed to do as mayor? Should he surrender the office so that eventually a mayor can be elected more to the liking of his critics – someone who will focus more on issuing proclamations and less on trying to bring about substantial changes?
Beginning long before he ran for mayor, Drew has, by far, been the largest personal investor in downtown Hillsboro for the past decade. He bought numerous properties that no one else wanted to touch. Nine times out of 10, when the properties were put up for auction, there were no bidders except for Drew. No one has stepped forward to invest more in Hillsboro – to express confidence in the city through those investments – than Drew Hastings.
To be sure, there have been a few others in recent years who have invested in downtown Hillsboro to renovate properties or stores. But as a developer, Drew has remodeled and then either sold or leased properties on almost every block in the downtown area. Without his investments, it’s sad to imagine the state of disrepair into which most of those structures would have fallen by now, including the old Fifth-Third bank building. Some, like the old city building where The Times-Gazette now resides, would probably have been demolished.
Drew recently bought another property, the one that came to be called the Armintrout building, on Governor Trimble Place. He bought it in December from Buck Wilkin, after it became clear that city council had gotten cold feet on buying and demolishing the building to create more parking. Some felt Drew might benefit somehow, while others felt the additional parking just wasn’t worth it. By purchasing it from Buck, Drew has basically conceded that the plan for the city to purchase the building is dead.
As long as he is mayor, any plan that the city might consider in regard to improvements or construction will always be met with questions about whether it somehow benefits Drew. The mayor’s hopes for a city plaza where Governor Trimble Place now exists are automatically opposed by some who seem obsessively worried that it might profit Drew, since he owns much of the property across Governor Trimble from the courthouse, everything but the Paint Creek fire station.
It’s difficult to understand how a plan that eliminates storefront parking and restricts vehicle access to those properties – including The Times-Gazette – can be considered a benefit, but there are those who make that argument. For the most part, it’s OK if someone else benefits, as long as it’s not Drew Hastings.
My own latest thought on the subject of the plaza is that they should build it and directly tie it in, thematically, to the existing veterans memorial on the southwest corner of the courthouse and call the whole thing the “Veterans Memorial Plaza.” Existing statues and monuments already in place around the courthouse would complement the plaza perfectly, with the addition of benches, bricks and other accoutrements honoring our veterans around what would be a new and attractive courthouse square, dominated by the beautiful courthouse itself.
Among Drew’s other assets is Bell’s Opera House, which he purchased prior to becoming mayor and which is one of the most historic and interesting landmarks in Hillsboro. If you have never had the pleasure of climbing the stairs and viewing the opera house, you should do so. The mayor is happy to provide tours.
What a step back into history, what an opportunity for the future. Prior to becoming mayor, Drew received some state and city funds to secure the exterior of the building, followed by a steady round of criticism ever since. As long as he’s mayor, there are those who will cry foul if he seeks any grant money or any other public assistance to repair and upgrade the opera house for future use. They apparently prefer that this landmark deteriorate into irreversible disrepair.
The sitting mayor should not be eligible for city grants or funding, but state and federal grants should not be off limits. Old opera houses like Bell’s are among the easiest entities in existence for which to obtain grants – but not in Hillsboro, as long as Drew is mayor, at least not without a whole new round of manufactured controversy.
So it’s a legitimate question. Can Drew do more for Hillsboro as a private citizen than he will be permitted to do as mayor? Frankly, Drew has to ask himself that question not just on behalf of Hillsboro, but on his own behalf. He is not independently wealthy. Between his investment projects and his standup comedy career, he still definitely qualifies as a small businessman trying to make ends meet.
Perhaps the question Drew should ask himself – a question I know he asked himself last year when the investigation and trial happened and a lot of people treated him like he was radioactive – is, “Why would I want to continue investing in Hillsboro?” He doesn’t think that way very often, which is fortunate since there’s not exactly a line forming with others making the same investments on such a broad scale.
Drew enjoys being mayor. But he’s mayor for the purpose of achieving some bold proposals, not to spend the last two years of his current term being a ceremonial ribbon cutter. As time goes by, and if Drew’s position as mayor continues to serve as an excuse to put the brakes on projects because he owns nearby properties, he may well have to ask himself, “Can I accomplish more if I’m not the mayor?”
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or by email at [email protected]