Monday, May 3, 2010

More About Taxpayer Subsidies

This started out as a comment in response to other comments, but it got ridiculously long.

The Monroe Commons TIF was not straightforward. It involved a lot of innovative math to avoid violating the 50 percent limit. There was a large subsidy placed on each condo to pay for the grocery store. The repayment formula was unrealistic to start with, but the Council seems not to have realized that. Yes, the market tanked. Anyone who believed the real estate boom was going to last forever had no business speculating in the market with taxpayer funds. I hope the developer manages to meet the commitment to make up the shortfall.

With regards to Capitol West, the city counted on a sufficient number of condos being sold and added to the property tax rolls. That hasn't yet happened, hence the State Journal reporting "Alexander has no issues with tax payments, but has struggled to sell enough condos to meet obligations for $4.27 million TIF loan."

Overture Center is a huge mess. Its draft budget for 2010-11 has a deficit almost twice as big as MCAD's reserves.  Who will make up the shortfall if not the City?  The City is also on the hook through 2011 for part of the remaining debt (part of the 2005 refinancing deal). It continues to subsidize the center's operations, much as it did for the Madison Civic Center.

Marc Eisen wrote a terrific story in Isthmus a few years ago on Overture's big mistakes which included this:
Mistake #4: Not programming enough free events. Paul Kosidowski, writing in these pages a few weeks ago, pointed out how crucial the old Crossroads was to the Civic Center for casually pulling the public into the building for children's shows. (It also, I would add, served as a short-cut to traverse the downtown.) The Crossroads functioned surprisingly well as a town square within the building.
Overture so far has no similar democratizing feature, and this only adds to complex's hoity-toity stand-offishness. This is not good. Not only because Frautschi dedicated the arts complex to the whole community, but because at some point the community may be asked to dig into its pockets to maintain Overture. 
While Overture's resident community arts groups have indeed increased their offerings (both in number and scale), a number of other community arts groups have struggled. 

Regarding the library, I did mis-state the facts. I should have said "17 million in TIF for a shiny new $37 million library."  $37 million was the total amount that the Council approved in the capital budget for the new library (not the total cost of the proposed Fiore mixed-use project though, which would have been $88 million). I apologize for not spotting the error before I published the post.  It will be corrected.  I have followed the saga of the proposed downtown library fairly closely.

And I never speculated about the age of Monroe Commons condo residents.  I was thinking of the patrons of Trader Joe's, the gourmet grocery store that was the reason for the Monroe Commons TIF.  Capitol West was the high-rise condo development I had in mind.  Regardless of who lives there, it adds a certain urban energy to the look of our downtown.


Tim Morrissey said...

Excellent post, Jill, and thanks for pulling up Eisen's great Isthmus piece about the Overture Center. I've often thought "the great architect", Pelli, operated in a vacuum once they told him the "Yost facade" had to be kept.

And that TIF for Trader Joe's and the condos? Yah, real "blighted" neighborhood there....

Leftilicious said...

Jill - Rob from Overture here. Just want to clarify, the projected deficit for the 2010/11 season has nothing to do with the debt, and has nothing to do with city government. The 2009/10 budget, which will come to an end in June, will end not only in the black, but even more in the black than we anticipated. The 2010/11 budget, the one projecting a deficit, assumes no major fundraising, no change in operational structure and very modest ticket sales. Subscription sales, after just a week, are already WAY ahead of where they were last year at the same juncture. And we're working on changes to our operations and governance.

And finally, I'm not sure how useful it is to quote an article that's four years old, but either way, Marc Eisen's comment about lack of free events just isn't true. More people attend free and low-cost events than buy tickets to shows. Kids in the Rotunda, Overture After Work, Overture Galleries, International Festival, and our other free community programs draw more than 150,000 people annually.

Feel free to email me at if you have any other questions or would like a more in-depth look at Overture than you get from the newspaper.