December 06, 2012
City Council voted at its Tuesday, Dec. 4 meeting in the council chambers at city hall to let citizens vote on the Greensboro
Performing Arts Center (GPAC) bond.
However, political maneuvering on the part of Mayor Robbie Perkins could mean the council bypasses the voters to borrow $40 million to build a venue that caters primarily to an upper income audience.
The vote followed a presentation from the GPAC Task Force and a lengthy public comment period where both proponents and opponents of the proposed center spoke.
Representatives from the task force, AMS Planning & Research Corp., the consultants hired to conduct the economic analysis for the proposed GPAC, and H3 Collaboration Architecture, hired to look into the site plan, gave essentially the same presentation they gave at the final task force meeting last week.
The report states that the old YWCA recently purchased by the city is the preferred site for the 3,000-seat facility. That the GPAC should be able to accommodate a diverse array of programming including Broadway shows, symphonies and popular entertainment, and will cost $60 million.
Task force members and consultants assured the council that everything would be done within the $60 million budget and that the center would provide some 59 jobs directly.
Before the presentation Perkins pointed out that a public hearing on the issue would be held at the Jan. 15 council meeting, and that the purpose of this presentation was to hear information on the building and site plan.
Before the meeting Perkins commented that there was no chance the council would take action at the Dec. 4 meeting regarding the GPAC.
However, Councilmember Trudy Wade said that because the item was on the general business agenda it was standard to have a discussion on the issue. "I've never had one on a general business agenda that we could not discuss," Wade said. "I know there was some discussion earlier in the hall, on a way to cut off discussion on this, so I'm asking you in public."Greensboro
City Attorney Mujeeb Shah-Khan responded, "the council may discuss the item, if it so wishes," but said the council could restrict additional comment on the item.
Wade said she had discussions with other councilmembers about wanting to put the GPAC bonds on the ballot in November so that voters could have a say on how their money is spent.
"I want to be sure we can have that discussion tonight," said Wade, "since certainly I will be moving to the Senate and I've been here the whole time this has been brought up and I'd like to be here for the discussion." She said the person who would replace her would not be "up to speed" on the issue.
Wade said she knew at least four councilmembers who wanted to see the item go on a referendum, which was part of the original financing plan that the task force was asked to look into. Wade made a motion to put GPAC bonds on the ballot in November.
Before the council voted on the motion and after the presentation on the building and site plan, public comments were allowed.
The proponents went first, and largely formed an extension of the task force presentation, as most of the 10 speakers were members of the task force.
Lewis Cheek, co-chair of the Finance Options Committee of the task force compared the project to the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) and said that if the financing for that facility had gone to the voters it probably would have failed, but that no one today would admit to having opposed DPAC.
Cheek said the councilmembers needed to show strong leadership and push the GPAC through on behalf of the citizens, who he said would ultimately benefit from the facility.
Wade asked Cheek if whether or not the debt for DPAC was serviced completely by a hotel/motel tax, or whether any of the money had come from the general fund.
"It didn't come out of the general fund," Cheek said.
Councilmember Jim Kee asked Cheek to describe the marketing agreement that Durham has with the operators of DPAC, which allows them to turn a profit on the facility. Such an arrangement is not part of the plan for GPAC.
Marsh Prause, co-chair of the Outreach, Communications and Marketing Committee of the task force, said that the War Memorial Auditorium embarrassed him in front of his visiting friends. "I'm tired of having to apologize for it," he said. He said that Greensboro
needed the Performing Arts Center and argued that it would have broad appeal to both blue-collar and white-collar people in the city.
Ellen Sheridan, a member of the Outreach, Communications and Marketing Committee, said Greensboro
needs to enhance the arts culture that already exists, and that the GPAC will do that.
Sheridan said she found it insulting that people would suggest the Coliseum meets the entertainment needs of the city, because residents do more than watch sports. Councilmember Zack Matheny later pointed out that the Greensboro
Coliseum supported broad programming.
Larry Czarda, co-chair of the Building Committee of the task force, said that GPAC would offer educational opportunities, like diversity training, by exposing young people to other cultures and different kinds of art.
Czarda, who is the president of Greensboro
College, said the center would be "absolutely catalytic" for higher education in the area.
Mayor Keith Holliday also spoke in favor of the GPAC. Holliday is the CEO of the Carolina Theatre, and said the council needed to show leadership and take the opportunity to build the center, which he believes will benefit the arts culture in Greensboro
Seven people spoke in opposition to GPAC as it is proposed. While the speakers generally supported the idea of a performing arts center, they tended to argue that now was not the right time to commit taxpayer money, particularly without voter approval.
Billy Jones said that he thought the cost of the facility would likely overrun the budget.
Larry Morse said that in tough economic times the city might better spend its money on restoring public services that have been cut in recent years or on other job creation projects like incentives for small business.
"It's clear to all of us that job creation is critical," Morse said. "It's critical in these hard times and it's critical in the long term." He added, "The real question is should GPAC be on the top of the list of council's job creation projects." He said a dollar spent on the GPAC is a dollar that cannot be spent on another project.
Councilmember and current Chair of Citizens for Economic and Environmental Justice (CEEJ) Goldie Wells commented that the city seemed to be able to find large amounts of money when some groups ask for something, but that projects in east Greensboro
have been waiting for funding for years despite residents requesting it. She also said she thought the voters should be given a say in the matter.
Michael Roberto also spoke in opposition, saying he had found rare common ground with the much more conservative Wade. He also said he was directing his comments directly at Perkins....continued on page 2