January 24, 2013The Greensboro Performing Arts Center (GPAC) Task Force is scheduled to give another "final" presentation at the Feb. 5 Greensboro City Council meeting, despite the fact that major questions about the funding of the project still seem to be unanswered.
A presentation on how the GPAC – estimated at $60 million to build – would be financed had been scheduled for the Tuesday, Dec. 18 meeting of the City Council, but that was postponed to Tuesday, Jan. 15, and now to Tuesday, Feb. 5.
An earlier final presentation was given by the task force at the June 19 council meeting last year.
The task force had been proposing that the center be funded with $20 million in private donations, $20 million in user fees and $20 million in general obligation bonds.
However, it is widely believed that a bond referendum for the GPAC would not pass, and the task force later presented an idea to use $40 million in public funds by issuing limited obligation bonds, which, like certificates of participation, do not require voter approval.
That idea was squelched in December of last year by the Greensboro City Council, when it voted to put a general obligation bond referendum on the November 2013 ballot. Since then the task force has shifted its focus to user fees, and the council has taken no further action to place a bond on the ballot.
The task force is not expected to address how to fill a $20 million hole that leaves in the plan to raise $60 million.
Instead, the financial presentation is scheduled to focus on how revenue from city-owned parking, a fee on GPAC ticket sales and revenue from the hotel-motel tax could fund the debt service on $20 million.
In January of last year the City Council was considering contributing $41 million to the project with a combination of general obligation bonds and money from the hotel-motel tax to fund $11 million in certificates of participation.
The whole process began when council was considering a proposal by Coliseum Director Matt Brown to tear down the War Memorial Auditorium and build a performing arts center at that location. However, the council, led by Mayor Robbie Perkins, that decided building the center downtown would be better and appointed a task force to look into it.
The only paid member of the task force, Ross Harris – who was Perkins' campaign manager before becoming GPAC Task Force manager – said the last presentation will also involve an overview of the task force's work.
Harris was hired by the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro for the project, and the foundation has refused to even tell councilmembers how much she is being paid.
Harris said that after the presentation on Feb. 5, the work of the task force will be complete.
Harris said that sources to fill the $20 million gap in funding had not been identified, but said, "We are confident that we'll find those sources."
According to Councilmember Nancy Vaughan, who sits on the Finance Options Committee of the GPAC Task Force, the project has lost some of its momentum. "We are kind of stuck," she said.
Vaughan said that several things were contributing to the delay in the presentation, including the Christmas holiday, and disputes between Brown and AMS Planning and Research, about the overall cost of the project.
According to Vaughan, Brown has said the facility as currently proposed would overrun the $60 million estimated by AMS, the consultants hired by the task force.
"People have really taken a more serious look at the financing," said Vaughan.
Using money from the hotel-motel tax fund would require approval from the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, which is controlled by Republicans.
Vaughan said she hoped the commissioners would approve the funding request. She added, "I don't believe they've ever turned us down before."
Vaughan said the parking fee revenue would be taken from "enhanced parking revenue," meaning new revenue attributable to the GPAC.
This would require the city to raise rates for some parking in decks at night. The city started charging drivers $2 to enter parking decks after 9 p.m. in April of last year. Vaughan said that rate will need to change to between $5 and $10 for lots near the GPAC in order to fund it.
She also confirmed that the city was not currently considering any contribution above $20 million from user fees and the hotel-motel tax.
Vaughan said she would love to have a performing arts center in Greensboro, but said, "We just need to make sure it's the right time."
The city doesn't operate in a vacuum and Vaughan said she was concerned about what effect North Carolina's new Republican-led General Assembly might have on local budgets, particular a proposal to eliminate the state income tax and replace it with a consumption tax.