Garbage, Downtown Hotel, & Demos

There are trigger words in Decatur that cause blood pressure to rise, knives to be drawn, and blood to be spilled. “Garbage.” “Waste Management.” “Yard Waste Removal.” Say any of those words, and you’ll be in for an earful.

I’ve written about it before, but garbage service in Decatur is handled about as well as the world’s troubles at the UN. It really shouldn’t be so hard.

If you’re not aware, new garbage rates were adopted recently in an agreement with the city’s garbage haulers. The new rates were meant to cut out all of those sneaky fees that haulers were adding to customer’s bills, like charging monthly rent for a tote, even if you provided your own. Those fees are gone. Unfortunately, so now are a lot of services.

Under the new agreement, yard waste will only be picked up for a few weeks in late spring and a few more in the fall. If customers want to keep their old service, they’ll have to dish out another $120/year or so. That only includes one can of yard waste per week. If a branch, leaf or twig is higher than the tote by possibly even an inch, the hauler may get out of their truck, take pictures and charge you more. I wish they were so eager to get out their trucks to provide better service. They seem to be glued to their seats.

As proof of my age, I remember when trash collectors used to collect resident’s garbage on the side of their houses. They’d get out of their truck, walk up the driveway (gasp!), and take care of everything. We’ve sure come a long way since then.

I’m expecting a notice any day from the city informing me that I have to meet the garbage hauler across town and toss my garbage into their truck, but only every other Wednesday, and in months ending in “-er”.

I realize automation has made garbage pickup much easier for haulers, and that’s a good thing, but the continued cuts to service and lack of choice in Decatur stinks worse than any garbage. Yard waste pickup is needed from March through November. I’m okay with hanging onto some fallen branches throughout the winter. A pile of branches or compost is good for wildlife anyway.

The current rules are only going to encourage residents to dump illegally, burn their yard waste, or just not bother cleaning up their yards at all. Decatur’s low income neighborhoods are going to take the biggest hit, as usual.

If I had to try to fit all the branches that regularly drop from my trees every year, it would take weeks to get them all hauled away one can at a time, especially since they’ll be collecting in my yard for months.

I have a feeling that a lot of us are going to be having “recreational” fires from now on. The burning of leaves and yard waste was banned years ago, but recreational fires are still allowed. I’ll grab a bag of marshmallows and a long fork, tell ghost stories to the squirrels, and roast weenies over a pile of sticks, if I have to. It’ll be a cold day before I dish out $120 for a service that should already be provided.

The city council admitted that they messed up, but unfortunately we’re all stuck with garbage service that is, as the Brits would say, rubbish.

Possible New Downtown Hotel & Apartments

Something that downtown Decatur has lacked for quite some time is a hotel. The nearest hotels are on the outskirts of the city. If I remember the name correctly, the last hotel that was downtown was the Ambassador Hotel that is now a county government building. It’s probably been at least 30 years since it closed.

Barnes Citizen Building

There are some apartments downtown, the biggest being the Orlando, built in 1914 with 86 units. It was formerly the Orlando Hotel. I’ve had a hard time finding much information on it, but I’ve always been under the impressions that it caters toward seniors. It would be nice to have apartments for everyone.

The former Barnes Citizens Building, which is the tallest in downtown Decatur, may become a hotel and apartment complex in the future. The current owner of the building is making needed upgrades inside, but a major sticking point to fully utilizing the building, is the absence of a parking garage.

The building’s garage was torn down in 2013, as it had become a major eyesore. The city would own and operate the parking garage, but rent the majority of it to the hotel. Nothing has been agreed upon yet.

The owner would like to secure a major hotel brand to operate the hotel. I think that’s key to its success. Most travelers choose brands that they’re familiar with.

Do I think a hotel can be successful downtown? I think so. It would be located next door to ADM’s office building, and be attractive to business travelers visiting ADM, Caterpillar and other major businesses in town.

It would also be a big boost to other downtown businesses, such as restaurants, nearby theaters, and other retailers. I’m not a big fan of creating another TIFF district, however, since I think they’re overused in Decatur, but that will another story. In general, I am supportive of the city helping financially, because I think it will pay off in the end.

I’m also in favor of saving the building. Without some kind of investment, that would likely be its fate.

Demo Decatur

Not every building can be saved, though, and soon to be demoed is much of St. Mary’s Hospital. 219,000 square feet of the campus is going away, including the tallest and most recognizable portion of the building. The number of beds is being reduced from 88 to 30. Intensive care beds are being reduced to 6, from 14 and operating rooms reduced to 4 from 8. This is according to a document that was posted on Facebook.

St Mary’s Hospital: Much of this will soon be demolished.

A number of services have already been eliminated, including pediatrics, birthing care, psychiatric care, and others.

St Mary’s has been dealing with financial troubles for quite some time. Part of it is due to slow and/or insufficient payment by Medicare and other aid programs. Probably the bigger part is due to Decatur’s declining population and high poverty rate.

I’ve always thought that the building was one of the most attractive in Decatur. It sits on Lakeshore Drive, in a very visible location, overlooking Lake Decatur. I don’t know what the new building will look like, but it undoubtedly won’t have the architectural presence of the building it is replacing.

It makes me wonder about the future of Decatur Memorial Hospital. Sometimes we assume things will be around forever, but I’ve boarded several sinking ships in Decatur. My favorite job was my first job with Black & Company. I worked in their screen printing department until it closed. I probably would have worked there until I retired. Then, I went to UPS working in accounting, until they moved their offices to Arizona. After that, I worked for K’s Merchandise in their corporate offices, but that went away, too. So, I just created my own business. That seemed like the safest bet.

They say growing old isn’t for sissies. Well, trying to make a living in Decatur isn’t for sissies either! Being a building is even more precarious. Your days are numbered.

What a Sad Sight and Site

I visited the Devon Amphitheater today to see the construction progress. The concession stand has been expanded, and new steps lead up to the seating areas, but the absence of the pavilion that once stood on top of the hill overlooking the amphitheater is hard to take.

Nelson Park Pavilion, overlooking the Devon Amphitheater
Nelson Park Pavilion, overlooking the Devon Amphitheater, Before Being Demolished
After… 🙁

I don’t think the park district board realized how important the pavilion was for the amphitheater. Even if it just stood there, serving no purpose, it added to the ambience and charm of the site. It looked like it belonged there. It makes me sick that they couldn’t figure out a way to incorporate it into the Devon in some way. Even if they just left part of the structure, it would have helped. Now it just doesn’t look right. It just doesn’t. The amphitheater looks far less impressive.

I don’t know what plans the park district has for the empty site. They say they don’t have any, but I don’t believe that. I’m sure they have ideas. It would be nice if they would share them. Maybe it would make it easier to stomach the loss. I’m very supportive of the park district and think it’s the best thing about Decatur, but I don’t agree with what they did this time.