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Monday July 14, 2003
The Worth of Freedom
Stepping On the Free Press

By Howard Hobbs, Ph.D., Editor & Publisher

    CLOVIS, CA -- It is not always easy to separate society's need and the individual's right under State and federal laws.
     In the City of Clovis this week, however, American constitutional guarantees to a free press are being indirectly questioned and perhaps abridged if city fathers go ahead with plans to force the local newspaper out of its editorial office space at 754 3rd Street corner on Third and Hughes in Old Town Clovis.
     This is the more serious question of the day. The inviolate role of the free press must be maintained in preservation of the individual's rights to free speech and in general, the right to the social good in confrontation of ideas which presumably follows according to the historical figures, Thomas Hobbes an John Locke.
     The social good has been more compelling than has the natural right. Society's stake in free speech and the free press is critical in the structure and functioning of a self-governing people.
    It is only through a clash of ideas in the open discussion can solutions to problems and sound public policy be arrived at.
     It may take a few years and a few million dollars, but Clovis leaders appear to be openly endorsing a plan that if carried through, will directly cause the eviction of the Clovis Free Press from its Third St. Corporate office.
    The City of Clovis announced its intention to indirectly acquire ownership rights to local Old Town property on a pretext that the space is critically needed for the a proposed performing-arts center or possibly some other use or even an amphitheater and veterans museum, according to statements by City officials in the week.
     The hastily established Clovis Community Foundation has offered to pay for the center's development and ongoing operational costs after the Clovis Memorial District board of directors approved a conceptual map that laid out the area surrounding the existing memorial district conference hall.
     According to a statement released to the press this week, by an official of San Francisco-based Mark Cavagnero & Associates, which drew up the plant, the new building at the Third St. location might include a performing-arts center and outdoor amphitheater each will have 400-seat capacity, "...this is the vision of how the city and Clovis Memorial District want to see it developed."
     Speculation in the neighborhood however, is that the plan has been subtly designed to replace the present tenant at 754 Third, St., the Clovis Free Press. In the past several years, editorials questioning City planning actions have appeared in the Clovis Free Press, which has a daily readership for May of 14,739.
     The City argues that it needs the newspaper's office space in order to integrate the Old Town Clovis business district west of Clovis Avenue with the government buildings and civic center east of Clovis Avenue.
     It is clearly a City redevelopment venture that the City hopes will attract more local and regional spending and at city shops, theaters, and entertainment venues of various sorts, according to Michael Dozier, Clovis community and economic development director.
      The controversial plan would only add about 80 new parking places by closing a significant portion of the Old Town Trail and relocating a significant portion of it the permanently closed portion of Hughes Street.
      City Manager Kathy Millison told reporters this week the city is prepared to begin work on the parking and trail realignment in the coming year.
     Several successful small business in the affected area 754 Third St. were stunned to hear of the City's plan to force them out of the building.    
     The Third Street commercial building is one of Clovis success stories of the past decade. However, the thinking seems to be that is that we have a Clovis Avenue divide, but because there will be so many improvements on the east side with landscaping, trees, benches, fountains, it will certainly be more visitor-friendly, more pedestrian-friendly," Jackson said. "We see it as a really good thing to draw tourism to bring something in .... We will have more ability to bring in special events."
     Support for the project also remains strong with the Clovis Community Foundation, Chairman Mark Keppler said. "We support this project. We think it's a wonderful idea, and we will cooperate and work together with the city and memorial district to make this project a reality," he said.
     The next phase of the project will likely include cost estimates and defining dimensions for each portion of the project, Wright said.
     Last year, the city and memorial district were issued a report that estimated the cost for the performing- r arts center could range between $5.7 million and $14.5 million. City of Clovis elected officials began re-examining land use at the 754 3rd. Street location shortly after critical editorials appeared in the Clovis Free Press Newspaper with its editorial office located at 754 3rd. Street Suite 102-A, owned and operated by the nonprofit Web Portal Corporation.
    Incidental to the appearance of Clovis Free Press editorials and related stories on City planning activities, the old performing arts center project resurfaced about three years ago.
     Economists have advised against the construction of a performing arts center in Clovis after determining the city lacked hotel rooms and had limited highway access. Whether or not newly completed Highway 168 which has on an off ramp capability a mile or more away from the proposed arts center, is an open question.
      In should be crystal clear to every member of the Clovis City Council that taking on the operation expense of its proposed arts venue estimated by the City Council's their own accountants to be in the $800,000 range every year with only 45% covered by ticket sales or rentals, based on a minimum 50,000 attendance is clearly above and beyond the experience level of the most small cities like Clovis.
    On these facts, it is readily apparent the City Council is fully aware the City of Clovis will never recover estimated operational costs, construction, maintenance6, staffing, and repair, of this proposed undertaking. Operating costs were forecast to be $778,000 every year with only 45% covered by ticket sales or rentals, but about 50,000 people could be expected to attend events there, according to the AMS projections.
     Most cities operating convention centers or similar buildings rarely break even. The proposed Clovis Arts District would be no different.
     Clovis voters are scratching the heads. Interestingly, one of the most successful current businesses in Clovis in recent years has been the Clovis Free Press with a daily local, state, and national circulation of over 122,000 readership

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