Since historical preservation is very much on the menu this week, it seems only right to share this piece I wrote a few years ago on Paula Marinoni, who has devoted much of her adult life to historical preservation, and earned the public scorn of certain elected officials and newspaper folk over the years.
Preservation with Paula
Fayetteville's Paula Marinoni fights for historical preservation and to maintain character of community
Written by Richard S. Drake
Paula Marinoni's family has lived in Fayetteville since 1905, and her long association with Fayetteville has given her a deep love for the city. It has also instilled an impatience with those who would despoil its beauty and historical past for a quick buck.
In 1998, the civic group Friends For Fayetteville presented her with an award "For preserving our history and seeing the beauty where luster has dimmed."
She says it was her grandparents who were key influence on her life's work. "Their appreciation for their home country, Italy, and we were raised with that. Tradition and appreciation and respect."
Her outspokenness has often put her at odds with elected officials, city planners, and the most sacred of sacred cows in Fayetteville, developers. Though, of course, to paraphrase George Orwell, some cows may be more sacred than others.
"One issue that I have had with this city for quite some time is that they discriminate," Paula Marinoni says with a laugh, when referring to the different treatment that some developers face when presenting projects to the city. In this case, she is referring to two projects - the Divinity hotel project slated for Dickson Street, and Renaissance Towers, the condominium project which will take the place of the demolished Mountain Inn, just off the square.
"Let's see if I get this straight. It's okay to have 18 stories downtown when it is the golden boys, and plus we [the city] bought ‘‘em the site, hauled the building off, and I'm going to be paying for it for the rest of my life, on the TIF [Tax Incremental Financing] tax."
By "golden boys," Marinoni is referring to developers who are suspected by some to have uncomfortably close ties to Mayor Dan Coody.
"So how come that's okay, and then these other guys want to build a 15 story [Divinity]. It's far enough away from Old Main, it's not blocking anybody's view but somebody up on Mount Sequoyah. If it was done in front of it, it that's blocking the view. But up there? It's not blocking the view."
She continues, "So they take it down to ten stories. That's within reason, considering nobody is having to bail them out. We are not having to buy that land for them. We're not having to build the building and subsidize it from here to eternity for them."
She says that the Divinity building, should it ever be built, will make it on its own, but that the Renaissance Towers, the grandiose condo project that will replace the Mountain Inn, will not.
"That site has always sucked," she says. The Mountain Inn was a money-loser for a long time before it closed, and many doubt the wisdom of building the renaissance Towers. She says that what is happening with the Renaissance Towers is typical of all too many cities across the United States.
" saw this in Kansas City, many cities, over and over. They try to force something to happen that doesn't make sense." She says that if it doesn’t make sense now, it won't make sense in the future.
Like it or hate it - and it has many who oppose it - the Divinity building is happening in the free market, with no city financial backing. The Renaissance project, on the other hand, seems very far from being "free market."
As a result, Marinoni feels that the Divinity project has a better chance of succeeding. Marinoni concludes by expressing her belief that, "I just think that somebody one of these days is going to sue the city over the discrimination of not treating everybody the same way."
While living in Kansas City in the early 1990s, Marinoni, sensing that Fayetteville was about to change irrecoverably, convinced her husband that it was time to move back to Northwest Arkansas. Since that time, she has devoted herself to historical preservation issues, much to the discomfort
of those who would just find it easier - and more profitable - to tear buildings down.
Marinoni is a well-known figure in Fayetteville, through her appearances at City Council Meetings, Planning Commission meetings, and her popular program on Community Access Television, Preservation with Paula, which she uses to educate the public about historic preservation issues in Fayetteville.
Talking about how the show came about, she says, "I've tried a lot of different ways to reach people here, and what has been interesting is that the people who ‘‘get it' are the general population, not the leadership. Never the leadership.
The show gives Marinoni an opportunity to speak out on issues that are important to her. "This is one of the reasons why I am here in this world," she says, talking about her efforts on behalf of historical preservation.
There is a distinct advantage to doing the show, she feels. "When I bring things forward to a City Council meetings, or a Planning Commission meeting, and they won't listen, and they try to humiliate the public when they speak out contrary to what they want, or if it's in the paper you've
only got three sentences, and that's not enough to help the public understand."
And as for televison news? "They get it wrong. They picked it up out of the paper that morning, and have no understanding of what is going on."
Frustration almost made Marinoni quit her efforts, but then she switched tactics, and began educating the public through her public access program. "I can take one topic and I have an hour. I have gotten so much feedback off the downtown rezoning [program]. People were going, ‘‘wow, I understand. I see it.'
"I can take them, and I can say, ‘‘Look, this is the new urbanism, the pedestrian friendly facade that they want. It has all the elements that they want. But let me show you what you don't see in the Planning Commission. Why it doesn't work, because of the topography.'
Warming to the subject, she continues with the example, speaking about a specific project on Spring Street, "You've got a wall here that pedestrians are looking at. Because they don't enforce code, you've got trash cans and recycling bins and weeds 24/7. That's the way it is, all the time."
Marinoni says that she wants the show to inspire others to act on their own. "What I am trying to do is give them the information and help them see the side of it that they are not being told, and help them understand. Then I challenge them to do something.
"Go down and get the plans. Go online and look at the plans. Read it, pick it apart. Call your representatives. If this is what you want Fayetteville to be, you have the power to do something about it.
"What I am doing is saying, ‘‘You have seen me do this. Therefore it is possible for one person to make a difference, for one person to say no.'I am trying to get people to take ownership, and to elevate their thinking, and to increase their willingness to take responsibility for their city."
She says it is amazing how many watch the show.
The proposed Downtown Master Plan for the city of Fayetteville also has Marinoni concerned. She laughs as she says that for a while she felt like the Bruce Willis character in the film, The Sixth Sense.
"I thought, why do people just look at me with this blank look and totally ignore what I am trying to tell them? And so I thought, this is really bizarre. What's going on? Why won't they listen to me, why can't they see it?"
Touching upon another subject, she discusses the train depot on Dickson Street, which may be leveled for development. She talks about her "heartache" when talking with the current owners of the property. The depot is not on the National Register of Historic Places, due to what she charges is "deliberate disregard for the history of what it means to all of Northwest Arkansas.
"That was the main train station, and I nominated it to Arkansas' most endangered, and for political reasons it didn't make it. The last I heard the antique Ludowici tile on the roof - I have it on our house - I begged them to save it. I brought in people from Chicago last year to redo our roof, I got estimates for them [the owners of the train depot], and the last I heard they are thinking of selling it on eBay."
She feels that the train depot should be the site of a park in the downtown area. After all, the city is willing to spend millions of dollars on trails, but not to protect a part of Fayetteville's past?
"It's sad for me to come back and see everything go, and deal with the people that just don't care."
Marinoni says that one of the biggest reasons that people do not understand or do not listen is that the leadership is male, or women in leadership roles are successful because they act like men.
"For the most part they are left brain thinkers. They don't understand right brain, and they don't understand a woman's voice."
She likens the political climate in Fayetteville right now to the Middle Ages, a time of intellectual stagnation. "They refuse to listen to a segment of the population, like with the Planning Commission and the downtown rezoning."
She claims that current trends for downtown will have the area looking Disneyesque, like its Celebration, Florida experiment. "If you build ‘‘historic' buildings - which is impossible - if you make it look real cutesy, give us that historical look, you can have it."
She dismisses such building styles as fake and monotonous.
One of her problems with the proposed downtown Master Plan is the drastic re-arranging of the downtown. "So now you want to put 20,000 people downtown. Where are they going to go? And do you not understand that this is going to change dramatically, and it will pretty much wipe out
everything that is there?
"And that is what I have been trying to tell them. That this plan is a plan for totally demolishing downtown, and replacing real historic buildings with faux-historic buildings, like is already happening."
She says that it is all part what she describes as Fayetteville's "grossly unenlightened leadership."
She says, "I don't know about the cities to the north, but around here, all of our leadership. County, university and city is just F, F, F on the grade scale on this particular topic."
She is equally dismissive of the Fayetteville's current mayor, saying that Dan Coody is a master of manipulation. "He masterfully created an illusion of himself of what people wanted to see."
In 2000, Marinoni waged an unsuccessful campaign for mayor. Some of the things she ran on might seem radical in Northwest Arkansas, but many progressive cities across the United States have already initiated some of them.
One of the more innovative aims was to initiate rental inspections in order to ensure the health and safety of those who rent property in Fayetteville.
The winner of the hotly contested race, Coody, was seen as a breath of fresh air by many who were used to the ultra-conservative Fred Hanna administration. Marinoni sees little real difference between the two men, however.
"When people asked me in the election ‘‘are you going to turn your support to Dan,' [in the run-off election] I said no. I did not like Mayor Hanna or his administration, or his leadership at all. It was very short-sighted. But at least he was a real person. He had flaws, but he had real flaws.
"What I said was, ‘‘There is nothing about Dan Coody that is real.' And I still say that."
Some of the groups that Marinoni has helped found include The Flower, Garden and Nature Society of Northwest Arkansas, the Historic Preservation and Restoration Focus Group of the Friends For Fayetteville, Citizens to Save Carnall Hall, and the Washington County Historic Preservation
One of the projects that Marinoni is best known for is her work on behalf of Carnall Hall, on the University of Arkansas campus. In recognition of her work toward the preservation of this landmark building, 1997, she was recognized with a special Ernie Deane award, presented at the annual Journalism Days Banquet at the UA.
While living in Kansas City in 1993, Marinoni was awarded the "Citizen of the Month" award for outstanding contributions to the community. A year earlier, "Woman of the Year" was bestowed upon her by the Shawnee Mission, KS/Kansas City, MO Alumnae Chapter of Delta Delta Delta, and in 1994, "Orchidist of the Year" from the Orchid Society of Kansas City.
Much has already been written about Carnall Hall, and the successful efforts to save this historic building on the University of Arkansas campus. Not many people know about one of the incidents that helped to further steel Marinoni's resolve in the matter.
"They would come up with these bogus projects that were going to fail. What turned it around was when they did this big call for proposals and these people were spending thousands on these plans, and I kept trying to tell them it's not going to work.
"A reporter for one of the papers sent me a message with her article that she was at a meeting, and how they were laughing about it. I got so mad, and I called her and said, ‘Who was there?' And it was like thirteen men sitting around a table laughing about womens' history."
Angered, she wrote a letter that she refers to simply as "The Letter." She says, "I let them have it. I went through all the things they had done to make it fail." She predicted failure if they continued on the path they were on, and how exactly it would happen. And like Cassandra of Troy, she was not listened to.
"So I called, and I said, ‘‘Now, can we talk?' And that's when I started the Women's Initiative. So basically we ganged up on them, and that's what it took for them to listen. Potential lawsuits, embarrassment and a whole womens' movement ganging up on them. That's what it took for them to listen."
Like her or hate her, Paula Marinoni stands up for what she believes in, and says what she thinks, which is a refreshing change from so many in the public light. Which may be one reason that so many in authority dislike her, and so many ordinary citizens pay attention to her.
Richard S. Drake is the author of a science fiction novel, "Freedom Run," and "Ozark Mosaic: Adventures in Arkansas Alternative journalism, 1990-2002."
Little Rock Free Press - 2006