Respondents to this week’s Rochester Business Journal Daily Report Snap Poll say a performing arts center at Midtown Plaza would be a catalyst for development but the city and county should not help pay for it.
The Rochester Broadway Theatre League last week said it intends to build a $70 million performing arts center at a site once occupied by a McCurdy’s store at Midtown, but only if certain commitments are made by Sept. 1.
The requirements include a city-led effort to raise $35 million in state and federal funding and $19.5 million in tax credits. RBTL also wants the city, Monroe County and trade unions to agree to pay an annual $600,000 operating subsidy. For its part, RBTL plans to raise $15.5 million from private sources.
Forty-four percent of readers are opposed to local officials seeking the $35 million in state and federal money to help build the new performing arts center; 26 percent say the public funding effort should occur only if RBTL first raises its proposed share of the project.
Though 65 percent of respondents agree that a performing arts center at the Midtown site would be a major catalyst for downtown economic development, only 26 percent say the city, county and unions should agree to the annual operating subsidy.
Some 800 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted June 21 and 22.
Should local officials seek $35 million in state and federal money to help build a new RBTL performing arts center?
Only if RBTL first raises its proposed share of the project–$15.5 million in private funds: 26%
Should the city and county, along with trade unions, agree to pay an annual $600,000 operating subsidy?
Do you agree or disagree that a performing arts center at the Midtown site would be a major catalyst for downtown economic development?
Agree strongly: 28%
Agree somewhat: 37%
Disagree somewhat: 16%
Disagree strongly: 19%
Here are some comments from readers:
There is not a significant enough Broadway theater following in this community to justify using taxpayer funds for the project. Additionally, if the RBTL needs a $600,000 annual subsidy, then it becomes a bottomless pit. I vehemently oppose this albatross.
—Heather Keys, principal of KeySolutions of NY LLC
In any economy, asking citizens of a community to subsidize a project targeted and de facto accessible only to the affluent and influential segment of society is a pretentious, inexcusable exploitation of the middle and lower classes to satisfy the whims and social excesses of and by a select and fortunate few.
—Bruno A. Sniders, Webster
Was it a good idea for the Romans to put all that money into the Coliseum? What about the Eiffel Tower? Was that a good idea? Great cities build large projects that project their confidence and abilities. Let’s start acting a little greater than we have in the past.
—John Perry Smith, Total Information Inc.
We have been excusing major and minor local businesses from paying their fair share of taxes under the guise of economic development for a long time. Paying for this will at least get me something. Has anyone ever even added up the cost of those tax exemptions so we could compare the cost of this public amenity to, say, business development in Henrietta or Penfield?
If you feel so strongly about spending taxpayer money, why not give it to Kodak, Bausch & Lomb, Xerox and Gleason so they can grow and hire more people. That would really stimulate growth and jobs in Rochester. We don’t need another money-losing public works project. We have the RPO and various theater groups now. Another one will only make a small pie smaller for everyone.
Is this really a serious question? How could anyone in city or county government actually consider backing a plan that would divert monies so badly needed for strengthening our schools and the basic safety issues facing the city and spend it on this? I just don’t get how we can expect other venues for public entertainment downtown to pay their own way and yet we should cough up for this. It’s a waste of time to even consider such a blatant pandering effort. Before we go off on such a farce, we should know: What is the county/city subsidy to the Blue Cross Arena, and Geva, the Eastman Theatre and the Auditorium Theatre. Are those venues at capacity now? And, $70 MILLION, with only $15.5 from private funding? I’m fully in favor of public support of the arts, but not at the expense of much more worthy causes, as I state above. We just can’t afford this. It’s time for the management of the RBTL to either get off the meds or double up on them ’cause they are not making sense as it now is.
If there was $35 million available to Rochester and we could decide how it was spent, would RBTL rank above education, crime prevention, repairs of deteriorating bridges, etc.? With the federal deficit so high and New York State so dysfunctional, I think it is incumbent upon us as citizens to become proper stewards of the community’s (state’s and nation’s) money and prioritize spending so that we spend what we can afford. If certain things need to wait a year or two, then so be it. With government paying $54.5 million up front ($35 million direct and $19.5 million of tax not collected that could have been used for other purposes), and the need for $600,000 annually, how much will RBTL need to generate for the local economy for this to be feasible? If their plan shows that it can cover these initial costs (by increases to our economy) in a reasonable time frame and eventually be self-sustaining, then it should be considered.
Roughly speaking, RBTL wants the public to pay for 80 percent (aid and tax credits)—and on top of it, they want $600,000 per year. That is way too much taxpayer money for this project.
Put the RBTL Performing Arts Center in the suburbs where it belongs. More people will attend, it will flourish financially and it won’t require taxpayer dollars. Put it downtown, and people are more hesitant to attend, season tickets are harder to sell and it will have to be subsidized. It’s time for the RBTL board to wake up and do the right thing financially and for the majority of its ticketholders, who live in the suburbs.
—Rick Corey, Penfield
The U.S. is running over a trillion-dollar deficit this year. New York State is going bankrupt. Rochester is running in the red. We already have a serviceable performing arts center at the Auditorium Theatre. If the good Mr. Rothschild wants any of my money, he better come up with more creative ways to steal it from my pocket. Does Mr. Rothschild live within his means in any other aspect of his life?
—Clifford Jacobson, WebHomeUSA.com
First of all, a majority of people haven’t even asked for it. Second, a performing arts center will benefit the rich and upper-class only. Third, anyone notice how well Paetec Park benefited downtown? Exactly— it didn’t! And finally, there are plenty of other places (like schools, maybe?) that could use the $15.5 million to better avail. Typical government doing what they want instead of what their constituents do, excepting of course the wealthy ones who pay their way and line their pockets for them.
The city needs to put money into things that all people will use, not just the uppity type.
It’s going to take more than the performing arts center to revitalize downtown. You first have to clean up that crap-hole that is downtown any city in Upstate NY. Give the people a real reason to come downtown, not just a three-hour performance. The blight, crime, general appearance and attitude of the locals have to change to make it a success.
—Jim Duke, Victor
I believe these types of public funds expenditures are investments in our community’s future. Who wants to live where there is no culture, no sports, no downtown?
—David Lamb, Rochester
This is really no different than subsidizing the bus system. However, we have to stop somewhere, and private enterprises like entertainment should pay their own way. Ditto sports stadiums!
There should be a public component to the funding (I don’t necessarily agree with the stated amounts); there needs to be some consideration from all the parties that will benefit from the effort, but nothing should be open-ended. RBTL needs to perform (pun intended); the public will step up if the programs are interesting; the schools should take advantage to add educational programs built around performances; visiting artists/performers will need to get out into the public arena to promote and support—there are many opportunities. If the shortsighted part-time politicians don’t get on board, it will hurt.
Who decides what form of entertainment is worth a government subsidy? Put it on the ballot; if it passes, so be it. It won’t!
—Joe Fabetes, Rochester
They really need to rein in their costs by shrinking the theater size and by eliminating the yearly operating deficits. Until that happens, I don’t want any public support for this plan.
This is difficult, because I have seen firsthand what a new venue can do for a city (I lived in Denver when Coors Field was built), but this is not a sports team. I don’t see the RBTL filling the bars and restaurants. I would be hesitant to let our government throw more good money after another scheme. I say let them build it and then we can support it with our money as patrons, not as taxpayers.
—Kenny Harris, EPIC Advisors
Building money, yes. Operations money, no. RBTL must live within its ticket prices and sponsorships/endowments/grants, etc.
Regularly we provide public monies to businesses for the purpose of improving our locale. To the extent that arts can provide returns, they, too, should be supported. Moreover, if the arts make Rochester a more attractive place for employers to relocate, then so much the better.
Enough with the boondoggles for things that will never pay for themselves. This only helps the building and trade unions and creates more mostly empty space downtown (theaters are only occupied when there is a show—businesses are occupied throughout the day). Bausch & Lomb Inc. is moving out, but we’re going to build a theater? If you want to revive downtown, make it attractive for businesses to relocate back to the city. Discounted sales tax rates, lower or eliminate property taxes for those improving their property or moving back to the city from the suburbs, enforce rent control on unoccupied buildings if they have been vacant for more than a specific period of time incenting landlords to fill the spaces, increase security, find more free parking, make it easier to get certificates of occupancy, get rid of "gang fights in the streets"— these are the things you need to do to attract businesses downtown, not build one-off "attractions" that cost the city more money.
—Lee Drake, CEO, OS-Cubed, Inc.
Keep the evil and misguided hand of government out of this venture. If the economic development hype is true, then those of us who patronize and use such a facility should pay for it. Taxpayers should not be burdened.
—Jim Weisbeck, Bloomfield
If we can force taxpayers to subsidize baseball, football and soccer stadiums forever and ever, then we should fund a performing arts center, as well.
—Peter Bonenfant, Fairport
Our residents are already strapped by supporting families, etc. If RBTL can afford to expand, a volunteer giving should be done. Not all county residents will benefit from this expenditure.
—Angela Martin, Martin Enterprises
Really, RBTL, really? In today’s economy and financial situation you ask for $35 million donation, plus some. Really, RBTL, really? But, to your credit, you have been upfront about the $600,000 annual subsidy you will need. And we better hurry up and get the money together as the deadline is Sept. 1. Really, RBTL, really? If 70,000 people in Rochester area were to donate $1,000 each, RBTL could build a new theater. Now ask yourself: Would I donate $1,000 for a new downtown theater? Here is a (partial) list of other performing arts in the area: Blackfriars Theatre, Bristol Valley Theater, The Downstairs Cabaret, Geva Theatre, JCC Center for the Arts, Mercury Opera, NTID Performing Arts, Nazareth College Arts Center, Rochester Community Players, Shipping Dock Theatre and Stages.
—Frank Weiner, Bridgekey Corp.
Anyone who questions the economic impact of the arts need only look at Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival and the amount of money currently spent on concerts, plays and other events at the Auditorium Theatre, Blue Cross Arena, CMAC and Darien Lake. Any investment in the arts has a positive economic impact on the region. There needs to be a clear understanding however with regard to how much this will cost to build and maintain and where the construction and operating dollars will come from.
—J.P. Gleason, C.F.R.E. Principal E.D.A./ Gleason Fund Raising Consultants
There is no single plan or project that the city can engage in that will "revitalize" the downtown. The majority of cities in the United Sates have suffered the same downtown abandonment that Rochester has and it will take much more than the creation of a new RBTL to bring the city back. Parking, safety, diversity of options for the public, and a tax-friendly environment are several of the key factors that need to be dealt with to revitalize the downtown area. Midtown Towers was the major downtown draw in the ’60s and ’70s (complemented by the major department stores and restaurants nearby) and in the ’80s it lost its draw and became an albatross for the city. The only major draw left in the city is the Eastman Theatre complex.
My essay on this topic would be encyclopedic and scathing. 1) City, county and trade unions = operating subsidy? 2) New York State is operating in surplus? 3) County of Monroe is operating in surplus? 4) The City of Rochester is operating in surplus? 5) Tax dollars and political fiduciary responsibility? 6)"Major Catalyst for Downtown Economic Development"? In my opinion, these topics are the tip of the iceberg. What about the overall safety perception of downtown Rochester—think Liberty Pole. Do a Snap Poll on that! Who comes up with this stuff? The only phrase that comes to mind is “follow the money.” Nothing else makes sense.
If public funds are being used, public interest should be on the board of RBTL. Looking at the numbers, the public is going to pay the major share it better have a major say in the usage and operation of the performing arts center. If they are looking at $600,000 a year in support funds, it better be built by only local companies. There better be total transparency on this project. I just feel this idea is a little too slick, let’s be VERY CAREFUL.
—Ken Pamatat, Creative Images
This project should absolutely go forward with federal, state, county and city support for capital investment. As for the annual operating costs, I think it’s appropriate for city and county taxpayers to contribute a portion of operating revenues, but not all of it. I don’t understand why the unions should be singled out for operating support. Aren’t they taxpayers, too? If unions are expected to support the RBTL, then why not impose the same expectation on the construction companies?
—Lisa Onoff, Pittsford
The subsidy should be phased out or reduced to a much lower level over a period of 10 years.
—Rick Runyan, NBN Sector Seven
We do not need another performing arts venue in the Rochester area. We already have many venues of different sizes and styles. First and foremost we have the beautiful Auditorium Theatre and its attached building housing several smaller venues. Money would be better spent on updating stage/lighting/sound in that space. Also, it would be advantageous to purchase nearby properties to add much needed parking. We are too quick to spend huge dollars for something new, duplicating what already exists and then demolishing parts of Rochester’s history.
—Sandy Johnson, Delaney Educational
It is 2010, and we Rochester taxpayers have had just about enough of taxation to fund everything from exorbitant pension funds, to performing arts centers. I cannot foresee that funding of the building or the operating costs would not result in an increase in city and county taxes, therefore I am opposed. What is wrong with refurbishing the Auditorium Theatre, which is "downtown," per se? As of now, the RBTL has events a few times a year; the Auditorium is dark perhaps 50 percent of the time. A catalyst to downtown would need to be lit at least 75 percent of the time, as Geva Theatre is, among others. I urge RBTL and the city and county government to get back to the drawing board, promoting a center that is a true draw to downtown, with live theatre, movies, ballet and concerts, producing at least an 80 percent uptime draw to downtown.
—Hutch Hutchison, In T’Hutch Ltd.
I first want to say that I am in favor of a new center for RBTL. With that said, I felt like we were being held up by the nature of the announcement. I think that it is unrealistic to think the state, county, and city should have to provide the amounts stated when we are in such fiscal crisis. I know the argument is out there that we should get our fair share. But I also believe that the majority of the funds should be raised by RBTL so they can better direct the building and its use. I am also not sure why we are asking unions to help fund operating costs. I don’t think this has ever been done and it sounds like we are taking money out of people’s pockets that perhaps need it now more than ever. I also recognize that union workers are well paid, but that is another subject. So perhaps it is a good idea to build the center, but maybe the timing is wrong if the funds are not available.
RBTL—as wonderful as it possibly could be—is still a private venture and should not be completely subsidized by the public! Helped, but not overtaken/over-ridden/not completely subsidized! Where is the bottom-line projection and WHO did the prep work? Where would the incentive be for either side to do well? But I do agree that Midtown will be an ideal location! We need downtown revitalized!
—Sonia C. Lochner, Realtor
According to RBTL’s 2008 990 tax form, (available for viewing at: http://www.guidestar.org/pqShowGsReport.do?partner=iwave&npoId=500835) it had, for 2008, a net SURPLUS of $215,928.00. This SURPLUS was made in the "obsolete" Auditorium Theatre (which, by the way Mr. Rothschild, is closer to more restaurants at Village Gate Square and along University Avenue than a theater at Midtown would be) as compared to an operating DEFICIT of at least $600,000 a year at the new theater. HUH? Would the for-profit companies that the members of RBTL’s board work for look at these numbers and think that this was a sound plan going forward? I think not. Well, unless it was in a corporate welfare zone or Empire Zone, of course! Reality is that, like it or not, the Auditorium works well enough that RBTL has had surpluses every year since 2006 with the surpluses growing every year, as well. Fantasy is hoping that another money-pit "savior" of downtown will do what the, usually wrong but well dressed and loud-talking, muckety-mucks promise it will do. (See: Blue Cross Arena, Riverside Convention Center, Frontier Field and the former Paetec Park.) Provide affordable housing for singles and young families and downtown will then "save" itself without big subsidies and tax breaks. Also, tell Mr. Rothschild that his threats to move the theater to "Congel Jr.’s Tax Shelter"—I mean Medley Centre—or the site in Brighton (which developer Anthony Costello has already withdrawn from consideration, Arnie keeps citing it as a possible location, HUH?) ring quite hollow. How is he going to build a theater at the never-to-be-built Irondequoit "Destiny USA" (see: Syracuse and Scott Congel’s dad, Bob) or on a parcel in Brighton that is no longer in the running or downtown with no fund-raising and little public support? (See: RenSquare.) Good Luck in getting that shiny new office nice and close to your lunch dates with the other downtown muckety-mucks, Arnie!
—Dan Palmer, city of Rochester
What are we thinking? The RBTL proposal will not catalyze downtown. Did anyone ask what destroyed downtown? It was not a lack of funds. Solve the real problem. Public money is just more taxes. And, what will happen with the Auditorium Theatre, and its neighborhood? We are robbing Peter to pay Paul. These half-baked proposals are just that. Half-baked. How about RBTL floating its own tax-exempt bonds, and let’s see who if anyone buys them. How will they be repaid? Can someone assemble a valid business proposal? Same answer. It’s the fast ferry (Johnson’s Folly) all over again. We have to live within our means.
(Insert dripping sarcasm here) What?! Public funds to support a viable, healthy organization that has proven to bring revenue to the area!? What foolishness! Let’s go buy a boat!
—Lou Calarese, president, Applied Audio & Theatre Supply
Please stop spending our money! How can a new center for the RBTL help economic development? Well, since it’s a simple service, it’s most likely to steal the money from other business, most likely other service-related entertainment firms/organizations. Not that I’m discounting how many companies will be sure to move to Rochester now that we have a downtown theatre league to offer. Not that they were not already compelled to relocate here after seeing Geva, the many little theaters, Eastman Theatre, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra or any of the other 30 organizations dedicated to the arts (let alone our vast number of minor league athletic clubs). Stop trying to pick winner and losers with our money. Stop subsidizing what should be left to private organizations. If it’s a good business model, they should do it of their accord. If it’s not, then why should we be left holding the bag for the fraction of the population who would enjoy it? Let me spend my entertainment dollars where I like without making me pay for everyone else’s entertainment. What’s next? The Rochester Midtown Comic Society to get a couple mill for their museum dedicated to the importance of pop culture and the comic arts. These ideas should have all been strapped to the underbelly of the fast ferry and sent to the bottom of Lake Ontario. Make upstate more business-friendly and stop driving out companies that produce products and services that can exported to the benefit of our community. Then there will be enough private money that you won’t have to pilfer from the rest of us and claim that it is in the name of providing an “economic catalyst.” Please.
—Devon Michaels, Chili
The arrogant beggars—for shows that I have not wanted to spend MY money on—rob all the poor people instead!
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