Bob – Say it isn’t so! Please!

by jhwygirl

Calling back my hero worship, sadly.

Seems Jaffe is waffling on what seemed to be his lack of support for extending the hold on the city-owned riverfront triangle property for the proposed $60,000,000 performing arts center.

The one that wants to ask the citizens for a $20,000,000 bond and donation of the land itself – worth in the several million dollar price range if not more? Anyone, please, kick in there with a value on that prime piece of real estate….

He’s now saying “If the PAC committee can find a $20,000,000 donor, and if they can raise an additional $20,000,000, and if the voters approve a $20,000,000 bond, they will be good to go.”

That’s a whole lot of ifs there Bob. And last I looked, there really isn’t any pie in the sky. In fact, there’s just a whole bunch of storm clouds lately.

We have an very worthy organization, Missoula Community Radio, that is seeking to obtain an FCC license for the last FM radio signal here in Missoula – a radio station that would be an “unfiltered media source” – which I think most of us all would agree is very worthy. It would provide an venue for local musicians and the local community organizations and promote communication. All in a non-profit setting.

They aren’t asking for free land – and hell, they haven’t even gone to the city and ask them to donate the $8,000 that they need to pay the attorney they had to hire to help them through the complicated FCC license application process.

You can donate to this worthy cause – I know they’d appreciate it. Even if everyone that reads this blog today donates just 5 bucks, that would be a hell of a nice chunk off of that $8,000 bill.

Instead, we have a Public Arts Committee (PAC) that seems to think it is entitled to a piece of city-owned prime real estate, entitled to a $20,000,000 taxpayer bond, and entitled to a $20,000,000 jump-start donor – – all because they are a “worthy cause”.

Well – Missoula Community Radio is a worthy community cause. HomeWORD is a worthy community cause, United Way Missoula is a worthy community cause – the list goes on and on.

We have more important things to do than to deal with this – and if the extension passes, we will continue to have to deal with this time-sucking cash-sucking venture.

Ward 3’s Stacy Rye kicked in with some common sense after Jaffe’s waffling began last night:

On one hand the Council is told we’re not doing anything but supporting a reservation of land. On the other hand, we’re told that if we don’t support it, we’re doing away with the project because they can’t find a major donor without public (City of Missoula) buy-in. I do not like being put in that kind of position, and yes, it’s fairly clear to me that if we do support this, we are giving a stamp of approval, not simply an extension of a land reservation.

Amen Stacy.

So I may not have a hero on City Council – but it does look like I have a shero.

City Council has no business, whatsoever, giving away a piece of prime real estate to anyone. Lease it, yes. Sell it, yes. But giving it away is wrong.

City Council has no business reserving a piece of property for an entity that is asking for it to be given to them. Again – lease it to them or make ’em pay for a reservation – it’s done all the time in real estate…called a “right of first refusal”…but they’ve had quite a bit of time already with absolutely no takers on their offer to have someone give them a $20,000,000 check.

Does anyone think that, if sent to the voters, a referendum to give the multi-million dollar property away would pass muster? Doesn’t council have a fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers to act more prudently with city-owned property? Hell – maybe I should check the law on that one.

And having already had that prime piece of riverfront property in their hands, reserved, fee-free, for two years now is telling. They say they need the reservation to get a donor, and yet it hasn’t happened.

It ain’t gonna happen – and the City needs to move on.

There’s more important things at task.

  1. Several corrections/addenda:

    The land will be given to the County, not a private entity, because the County needs to own the land on which anything it bonds to build is located. The facility will then be leased back to a non-profit who manages the facility.

    The land was given to the city with the aim that it be used to continue fostering the arts in Missoula.

    The Public Art Committee, which oversees the 1% for Art program among other things, is not involved with the performing arts center project. The PAC you might see in listserv e-mails is shorthand for the private group headed by Jim Valeo, Amy Rue and Paul Ritter working on this project.

    The donation is not committed to because no one has been asked. Something like this takes an enormous amount of time and a fair bit of delicacy. The time to solicit the donor is at hand but it is hardly a mark against the project that someone hasn’t formally volunteered $20 million before the time anyone was ever supposed to be asked based on the time line approved by MRA and Council previously.

    And what of the MRA’s recommendation? These experts are charged with getting the highest and best use from that land and have decided another 18 months don’t come with significant opportunity cost because nothing can happen on the parcel until after Safeway/St. Pat’s is well underway. No one, on Council or in the community, seems inclined to examine the logic of that recommendation, particularly given the esteem members like Dan Kemmis and staff like Ellen Buchanan deserve.

    First, let’s get the facts straight. Then, let’s try and find them all. Then, let’s look at what’s lost by offering 18 months as recommended by the board we appointed to examine such things. Then, let’s employ some judgment.

    Jaffe’s consideration of detailed nuance is what’s needed. Calling it waffling does nothing but discourage people willing to publicly examine all the facets of the discussion. It’s a trait sorely lacking in the Decider who so often rightfully gets derided for its lack. So refraining from impugning public officials who employ it would seem like a step toward the civility whose apparent lack I’ve heard bemoaned from these same quarters.

  2. Ouch! That should put an end to the accusastions that Jason’s a controlled progressive ‘bot!

  3. Not that I’m trying to shunt this issue off onto a good guy/bad guy dichotomy. Essentially Jason’s right: this is a complex issue. There’s good and bad points to either side of the debate.

    Still, I found the acrimony and accusations against Jaffe from the pro-PAC people and some apparent supporters (JC?) to be a little weird.

  4. JC

    My comments about Jaffe aren’t personal, nor are they related to his stance for/against the PAC (and they aren’t sour grapes, jhwygirl). It’s about public process in general. I don’t think Jaffe was trying to do something sinister, nor did he consider the potential pitfalls of his actions. I just think that the use of a listserve running on a private service, that provides a conduit for comments to the public record and Council sidesteps open meeting laws.

    It’s like holding an unannounced, therefore illegal, hearing. I have no problems with Jaffe having a listserve to communicate with his constituents–in fact that’s a good thing. But the let the subscribers come forth themselves and testify at Council or in committee or submit written or emailed comments. And if the City wants to have a public listserve running on the City’s system, that would be great. Create a good policy for how to use it, and everybody’s happy.

    Just as Council has to deal with the issue of email during meetings, it is going to have to deal with the issue of listserves (plural–once the right wing gets ahold of this tactic, watch out) being used to generate and harvest comments that bolster any particular Councilperson’s position.

    Thanks for the recap on the facts Jason. It seems that every time this issue comes up for another step in the process, folks want to sling the same stones having forgotten (or never learned) the history behind the PAC and the Riverfront Triangle. Me? I still have some of the old seats from the Fox Theatre on my porch. Some kind of dinosaur I am.

    Where do I stand? I support the PAC in concept, though not necessarily how it is laid out by the MCPAC. I think they have a long ways to go before they have the project conceptualized, designed and proposals for funding to construct and maintain it in place before they’re going to get the buy-in from Council, the County, the public, and private donors that they need in order to move ahead. MCPAC needs to get out of the back room and into the public sphere and work with people in order to build a coalition that will succeed. Of course, if you are against the concept of a PAC in general, then none of this interests you–you can keep on casting stones.

    This project shouldn’t be one of do we want what MCPAC has to offer. It should be one of will MCPAC give the community what it wants? And in order to determine that, they have to get out of their shell and start working with the community to build a coalition that supports a common vision. That just hasn’t happened yet. But there isn’t any hurry.

    Those that rush to offer alternative uses for the site forget what the City went through to select the PAC as the use best suited for the Riverfront Triangle. It’s what the public wanted. And it’s what the land was donated for. So, we as a community just need to refine that vision, and how we are going to get there. And MCPAC is going to have to listen to the public, and modify their plans until a consensus on how to accomplish this is arrived at. Or the residents of this decide they really don’t want a PAC anymore. Which they may do after seeing what it will cost to get there.

  5. Thanks for the clarified comment, JC. Those are legitimate concerns about Bob’s listserv. Like the PAC, I wouldn’t want to make the issue of open communication subject, too, to partisan wrangling. I think we’re all for more open access to discussion — as shown in the recent lively debate over the PAC — so let’s not strangle these baby steps we’re making.

    Not all of us can attend the public meetings; the Missoulian’s coverage of city council issues is sparse, to say the least; Jaffe’s listserv has, for me, been incredibly helpful for understanding the city’s issues and my neighbors’ opinions…

  6. Jason – I appreciate your clarification on the gift/lease issue. I’m sure that the intent is to lease the property to the PAC for something like $1 buck – but if ownership of the ground remains public, that’s a good thing.

    The PAC that I refer to is the same PAC referred to in city council minutes, the same as they refer to themselves. I did, incorrectly, use the ‘committee’ word, and shouldn’t have.

    Does the deed granted to the city restrict the use of that property solely to arts? Does it restrict the city to anything? While I’ve heard what you have said above repeated in public meetings, it seems to me that ‘intent’ and ‘requirement’ may be two different things.

    And that’s not to say that, in theory, I’m against a performing arts center – or some sort of arts center. I’m not.

    Nor have I incorrectly stated any facts – there aren’t many, really – most of it is “if” “if” and “if”. Even the study commissioned by the PAC suggests that the likelihood is a very hard road to cover. Very hard.

    The conjecture from the PAC is that, basically, ‘you’ve asked us to do this and this, and we have, and we thought if we did these things, we’d get another extension’ One of the important things they were asked to do last May was to work on garnering public support. From what I see, little of that has been done.

    Further, we’ve had some pretty significant situations arise since that time, and very recent at that – SID’s appear to be dead, which is going to place a greater strain on the general fund and likely result in some new tax of some sort on the community, and secondly, the denial of the $10,000,000 school bond just a few weeks ago.

    Both of those play significantly here – because this City does need to deal with the issues articulated by many on the listserv – roads, bike lanes, sidewalks, pathways. Our schools are underserving our children as it is – I’ve mentioned this before and was reminded (via email) that visual arts is taught in our schools only once ever 6 weeks for most students! – and yet we want to ask the taxpayers to help fund a $60,000,000 performing arts center?

    We need a new police station and expanded offices for City Hall – another bond that will have to go to the citizens. Do we want to tax the citizens for something like an arts center when very soon after that we are going to have to tax them for a new police station? And roads to make up for the abandonment as SIDs for the base funding of transportation improvements?

    Is what the PAC and MRA asking for bold? audacious? Yes. Would it provide an economic benefit? Yes.

    But would something else provide an economic benefit and support the arts also? Probably. Hell – I don’t know if MRA even thoughtfully looked at that – but at $60,000,000 project – a Bentley in a Chevy town – is asking a whole lot at this stage. It seems we are wanting to spend like we’re all a bunch of high rollers here – and we’re not. It’s good to dream, but as I said, last I looked up in the sky, there really isn’t any pie up there.

    If we use the logic that the PAC has done everything that has been asked of them, and because of that logic, we need to continue, them I guess we’ve already authorized this project. I’m not so sure that is true – and at some point, some common sense needs to kick in. It’s tough, it sounds tough, but I think (I think) that it needs to be done.

    The reality here of what they are asking isn’t even realistic – they’re asking for an 18 month extension – if they loose the bond in 1 year – they’re done. And I reiterate – I don’t know the wisdom of asking to tax the taxpayers when there are needed infrastructure items like a police station and roads that will need bond money. One coworker told me “no way. I support the arts, I want to support the arts – but my tax bill is 2 pages long and for Christ’s sake, we just denied a $10,000,000 school bond.”

    What they are asking of the taxpayers and the community here is astronomical – and I am truly accustomed to some astronomical prices when it comes to real estate and construction – numbers that even Whitefish doesn’t see – but asking the taxpayers to voluntarily tax themselves for a $20,000,000 bond and then to go to them for another $20,000,000 in fundraising seems so out of touch with the reality of economics of not only this community, but this state, it’s unreal.

    I wish I could find more support for this – I really do. In the end, our elected will make up their minds based on what is best for the community. But we also have to think about what is good for the PAC. Jaffe’s allowed to waffle (I could have used other wording there, but I didn’t) – but he hasn’t, as I see it, changed his mind, he hasn’t flip flopped, he’s waffling – he’s pulling back on what many felt his opinion was as he presented it in his first letter.

    I really didn’t see myself “impugning” him, nor did I see what I wrote as lacking any “civility.” Considering other stuff I’ve written here on other councilpersons, I’m not sure how you could even suggest either.

  7. Jim Lang

    The bottom line is that at 1600 seats, this theater is redundant. For 60 million bucks, design a venue with a capacity of three to five thousand or more with good acoustics and you’ll be adding something to the community. We don’t need another tiny theater.

  8. goof houlihan

    A good place to start investigating these tens of millions of dollar boondoggles.

    Even if built, these edifices suck the donations out of every program and performing company just to support the O&M for the building. The charges for using the building to practice or perform in get so high that the independent companies, and theatre groups and orchestras, etc, have to go elsewhere anyway.

  1. 1 Too many questions about PACs; too few answers « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] out this blogger’s account of Richmond, VA’s experience with a Performing Arts Center (hat tip, Goof). Or this report on Duhram, NC’s […]

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