What part of public sidewalk don’t they understand?

Updated: My former colleagues did not disappoint.

I certainly hope – and fully expect – that my former colleagues on The Roanoke Times editorial board have an editorial on a yet-to-be-published weekend page bashing this unreasonable, unwarranted and unconstitutional decision to ban assembly on the sidewalk in front of the Market Building. As could have been expected, the American Civil Liberties Union is already raising questions about the decision by the Market Building Foundation Board to deny a request by a group that wanted to restart its monthly, silent peace vigils on the sidewalk in front of Roanoke’s recently reopened iconic building.

The rationale, such as it is, expressed by the board is completely underwhelming. “Our conclusion was it would have an adverse impact on our tenants — the vendors who are using the spaces in the market building to serve their patrons — to have public assemblies on that sidewalk,” Chairman Doug Waters told The Roanoke Times.

Surely, commerce and free speech can coexist at the Market Building, as they did for decades before the building was turned over to a private foundation to facilitate the tax credits needed to finance the renovation.

I was especially disappointed to see board member Beth Deel , a well-known artist who organized the “Must-See TV” performance art spectacle that last saw the Market Building’s sidewalks in the news, defend this indefensible stance. “The issue is that the common space in the building is leased to the businesses in the building,” Deel said. “It’s not our space to permit assembly. So the common spaces that look like sidewalks are leased to the businesses in the building.”

I’m pretty sure that the sidewalks in front of every other building in Roanoke is presumed public. I see no reason why the sidewalk in front of the Market Building should be any different.

The board should rethink its decision, and Roanoke public officials should make clear that the board has overstepped its authority.


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