Tuesday, January 23, 2007
On this day:

The new battle cry in Tuscaloosa: "Save our Strip"

If the University of Alabama has its way, the row of bars and restaurants just off campus commonly known as "The Strip" may soon be just a memory.

After 67 years in operation, David Jones Jr. said he feels as if his family's business and the other businesses on the Strip are under invasion - a Martian invasion - by the University.

"It's kind of like a Martian attack," Jones Jr. said. "They're coming in and taking up land where they aren't really wanted."

He and his father, David Jones, own and operate the Alabama Bookstore, which has been in their family for three generations. The University buying property on the Strip and around campus surprised both men, so now they are doing what they can to save the rest of the businesses, including their own.

Jones Jr. said when he first found out about the University purchasing property, he sent an e-mail to all 18,000 people on the Alabama Bookstore's mailing list to let them know what was going on.

The reaction from several alumni and other customers was outrage.

"All of the e-mails I got in response were furious except for one," he said. "Everyone is very upset about it, so now I have to keep 18,000 people informed."

Additionally, Jones Jr. created www.savethestrip.com, a Web site to let the public know what has happened, which businesses are or will be affected and how people can help. ...

...Jones has been vocal in Tuscaloosa, speaking out against what he knows about the University's plans. He said the University's purchases have been motivated by their "anti-bar" sentiments.

The University has said there are 17 bars on the Strip, but David Jones said that he only counts five restaurants with liquor licenses and five bars. UA spokeswoman Cathy Andreen said that to the best of her knowledge, 17 is the accurate number.

"I'm really just trying to get people aware that the University is buying everything," David Jones said.

In particular, David Jones is trying to save his own business, which he leases although he does own the parking lot.

He said Lynda Gilbert, vice president for financial affairs, told him in a meeting that the University wants to buy his store, build a parking deck and then give him a space in the parking deck for the Alabama Bookstore.

UA spokeswoman Cathy Andreen said the University would not comment about the Alabama Bookstore or any private negotiations.

Jones also said UA officials including Gilbert have said that they will use eminent domain if they have to in order to use the property. And if the Alabama Bookstore goes, Jones said that Gallettes Bar and the Campus Party Store will be purchased also.

"I don't think the University should be a landlord to their competitors," he said. "We could all live in harmony, but that's not working."

But Andreen said the University is not planning to use eminent domain at this time.

"The University is negotiating in a good faith effort with the property owners to remove any doubts," she said.

David Jones said he thinks University officials will try to take his property, so he is trying to get public sentiment on his side, because he said he wouldn't be able to fight the University's lawyers.

"They have so many alternatives for where they could build a parking deck," Jones said. "I think that it's not the American way to put your competition out of business."

The University says it is negotiating in "good faith." How so? By holding the threat of eminent domain over the heads of property owners who stand in the way of its latest land grab? If the University seeks to inspire confidence that it will act as a good faith negotiator, its early resort to such intimidating tactics isn't the way to go about it. Far from it. The message I'm hearing is exactly the opposite: that the University stands ready to abuse its power in order to achieve its objectives, however misguided they may be.