Norfolk, Virginia, While Abusing Eminent Domain To Seize 78-Year-Old Business, Attempts To Silence Free Speech

I’m a month behind on this story, but something terrible is underway in Norfolk, Virginia, that should disturb all Americans who value property rights and free speech. Central Radio Company, which first opened 78 years ago and has been at its current location of 1083 West 39th Street for 50 years, is currently under siege. First officials at the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority attempted to seize their property in order to transfer it to Old Dominion University, which currently has no specific site development plan for Central Radio’s property. The owners of the company, Bob Wilson and Kelly Dickinson, rightfully objected to the eminent domain proceedings. They then commissioned a 375-square-foot banner (left) and hung it on their building to protest the taking. Then this happened:

The banner worked. Almost immediately, Central Radio started getting calls and letters of support from Norfolk-area residents and businesses. And the banner itself has become a focal point for local groups opposed to the city’s abuse of its eminent-domain authority.

Not surprisingly, Norfolk officials have quickly moved to silence Central Radio. Two weeks after the banner went up, city inspectors cited Central Radio for displaying a sign larger than 60 square feet – even though ODU has several banners that are just as large on its buildings nearby. The city ordered Central Radio either to take down the banner by May 5 or be fined up to $1,000 per day.

Obeying the city would muzzle Central Radio’s free speech rights. Hoping to avoid the fate of the many other neighborhood buildings around Central Radio that have already been knocked down, the company is using the banner to send an important message that can be viewed from several hundred feet away.

A 60-square-foot banner would be virtually invisible to the thousands of people who pass by each day on busy Hampton Boulevard. And even if Central Radio could put up other signs elsewhere, they would not have the same impact as a banner located on the company’s own property.

Thankfully, Central Radio Co. is fighting back against these egregious constitutional abuses. In May, our friends at the libertarian public interest law firm Institute for Justice filed suit in federal court challenging the city’s take-down order on First Amendment grounds. IJ is hosting a rally and picnic on July 5 at Central Radio Company (Facebook Event link). We strongly support Messrs. Wilson and Dickinson in their fight to protect their rights to property and free speech from Norfolk’s government thugs.