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The Pause That Refreshes

by Mark Peres

June 3,2004

Thinking about the ASC arts proposal, the City budget and civic priorities, I had this thought that a deep breath was in order. A banquet was on the menu, those who value the arts and who imagine what the City could be clamored in excitement for the fare, but it was too much, too fast and missing key ingredients. We were in trouble of having gluttony and the thrill of the moment ruin the meal.

Good sense seems to have prevailed.

City leaders and the ASC have agreed to reconsider the ASC proposal. Public monies for the arts will not be pledged this year. With the heat off in this budget cycle, interested parties can talk through objectives, timeframes and requirements— what is best for the City and the arts—with less acrimony and more common purpose. The time will also allow for clarity on the role of the City when times are tight and some sorely needed adjustments in the vision currently being advanced by the ASC and its sponsors.

The City is in a budget crunch. The business cycle may be turning for the better, the economy may be expanding, but municipal revenues are lagging and are not currently meeting expenditures (for structural and expediency reasons that we can discuss another day). When there is less money coming in than going out, the role of the City must be clear: attend to the health, safety and welfare of its citizens. Fixed and variable costs for police, social services and infrastructure (roads, sidewalks and completing light rail) comes first. Discretionary costs, including building art museums and new theaters, come second.

Acknowledging that subsidizing the arts is a secondary (or higher) function of government, however, does not get the City off the hook. The City must take a hard look at both sides of the ledger and reinvest in itself. The future of the City is only as good as its cash flow (the days of annexation are ending). Only a positive income statement will allow the City to become remarkable. With the economy expanding, the time to make the tough choices about revenue is now. Having the money to invest in public private development will allow the City to make far more money in the future.

As to the ASC arts proposal, there is something amiss. The two projects the ASC should be advocating are not on the list: the total restoration of the Carolina Theater and a state-of- the-art NASCAR museum. Each would be a magnificent draw authentic to our history. Citizens and tourists would love them.

If new personalities are required at the table to renovate the Carolina, then some folks may need to give way to new leadership. If new architectural plans for the Bechtler are necessary to complement the Carolina, then let’s have a design competition with buzz. It might be heresy, but I don’t see an immediate need for a new corporate theater in yet another modern non-descript glass high-rise. If we want impact, if we want to serve the City, the line-up should be the Carolina, NASCAR and Bechtler. Let’s use this time well.

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