Two years ago, the Battle of Washington Hose was in full pelt. Charlie Davi came to nearly every Common Council meeting, alternately wheedling and raging, driven by his frustrated desire to buy Washington Hose and turn it into a firehouse-themed ice cream parlor and fast-food restaurant. Four aldermen (Carrie Haddad, Chris Wagoner, Ellen Thurston, and I) steadfastly maintained that, because of the building's location at the entrance to Promenade Hill, the City needed to retain control of Washington Hose in order to realize its long-term goals for the waterfront. Called by some "the Gang of Four," we succeeded in blocking the sale to Davi and were vilified for it. One of us received hate mail so vicious it was turned over to the police. Another was pursued up Warren Street by a harsh-voiced former alderman who demanded repeatedly, even after an answer had been offered, "What you are going to do with it? Huh? Huh?"
But all's well that ends well. Two years later, Davi has opened his business in the old Dairy Queen building on Green Street, where he was the last franchise owner. Buying that building and readying it for business undoubtedly required far less of an investment than doing the same for Washington Hose, and the business doesn't face the challenge of having to be a destination all by itself. It's on the way to so many places. Now that summer's here, it's rare to drive by there without seeing people at the window placing orders or sitting under the tents enjoying their food. On a recent evening, Mayor Scalera was spotted there after a Common Council meeting.
And the future is bright for Washington Hose as well. The City will retain ownership of the building but is granting a long-term lease to HDC, which will use its resources to restore the building. Respected preservation architect Kate Johns has been engaged for the project. When the building is ready for occupancy--which is anticipated to be February 2011--HDC will share the space with the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, and, in addition to office space for the two agencies, the building will become a visitors' center. The vision for Washington Hose includes turning the plaza area beside the building into a kind of pushcart mall that will attract visitors and give people with a good idea for a retail business or product the chance to try it out with minimum investment and risk.
Sometimes things do work out for the best.