YOLO SUN OPINION :
Once enthusiastically embraced as potentially resolving the civic quandry created by Sacramento developer Paul Petrovich’s plans — based on an unwise and damagingly divisive (2002-03) amendment of the Downtown Specific Plan (DSP) to prioritize a cineplex to replace historic Electric Garage, rather than renovating and expanding State Theatre per the original DSP — the prospect of Woodland Opera House Foundation now acquiring, renovating and operating it as a performing arts center has suffered a relatively unexpected blow, with uncertain consequences.
This strange blow occurred during the agency meeting of June, 21, 2011, after several months of various efforts, led by agency member Bill Marble, to swiftly knit together such a proposal for redevelopment agency allocation.
___ With Cash Aplenty, Agency Underfunds State Theatre Project ___
Bent on requiring the Woodland Opera House Foundation (WOHF) to eventually fund-raise perhaps as much as $1 million to supplement a stingy Woodland Redevelopment Agency allocation of $1,887,500 for State Theatre transformation to a performing arts center (presently estimated to cost $2.4 to $2.7 million), perhaps also significantly delaying this project — Vice-mayor Skip Davies seemingly prearranged to obtain the vote of interim Agency / Council Member Tom Stallard, combining with Mayor Art Pimentel to make a majority.
Agency / Council Members Bill Marble and Martie Dote dissented, Marble strongly and repeatedly, advancing allocations of $2.7 million and $2.3 million, respectively.
Later in the meeting, Dote voiced quite serious concerns regarding the majority-adopted funding level of $1.8 million.
“I understand the belief in [ ] wanting to have the Opera House participate in fund-raising [ ], but I’m really concerned that we’re under-capitalizing a project that I think needs to be completed sooner rather than later,” exclaimed Dote.
“And I frankly don’t understand the allocation to Adams Grain. That’s come in very late and I don’t understand the support there.”
“I think we’re underfunding a capital project, [ ] and I don’t think that’s a formula for success,” she concluded.
Marble followed with similar objection, describing this situation as raising: “A huge disadvantage in terms of the viability of this project.”
Prearrangement of Stallard’s vote was apparent by the way he directly reflected relevant allocations and views of Davies, specifically: only $1.8 million for WOHF transformation of State Theatre, $300,000, etc., for Farmers Market expansion, as well as pitching extremely similar admonitions and encouragements about the fund-raising expedition they’ve arranged for WOHF.
Davies specifically noted that the grassroots organization, Friends Of State Theatre, doesn’t include what he asserts as essential, a fund-raising program, extending his remarks to demand that grant-funding activities, etc., be pursued by WOHF.
Stallard later quipped: “I can’t stand this defeatism about fundraising. [ ] There’s plenty of money in our community,” to gild Davies’ political line.
____ Unallocated Funds Underscore Stallard’s Motivation ____
Revealingly, Stallard refused to allocate $1.7 million of the $4.75 million available, seemingly intending to hold fast to the precise amounts allocated by Davies.
When briefly challenged about this tactic, however, by an increasingly agitated State Theatre supporter, Stallard insisted that his need to recuse himself on a couple of projects was the reason for his refusal to allocate the remaining $1.7 million.
Apparently, of course, his real reason was a strategic intention to best duplicate relevant aspects of Davies’ allocations and reflect (actually: create) the majority trend along with Pimentel.
Stallard was clearly the swing vote for this pivotal situation, with the basic funding format of WOHF to utilize State Theatre plainly being at stake.
Nothing stopped Stallard from instead, — aligning with Marble and Dote through allocating some of his remaining $1.7 million to WOHF — except for his obvious desire to hold the political line at Davies’ (pre-expressed) limit.
The problem wasn’t that Stallard lacked allocation capacity to serve these interests of WOHF, because of having to consider too many competing proposals. His stated need to recuse himself from a couple of proposals actually made him — more — not less — able to deliver a fully funded allocation to WOHF.
Thus, Stallard’s instant excuse for not expending more of his allocation ability rings quite hollow, also revealing his inclination to dodge the sudden political heat raised by his joining with Davies and Pimentel to claim such a stark WOHF challenge / distress as somehow a joyful burden.
____ $1.8 Million Limit Imposed ____
Pimentel, too, was clearly aware of and endorsed Davies’ previously stated, precise limitation on State Theatre (WOHF) allocation: $1.8 million.
Davies defended such a limit by saying that the building will likely cost $300,000 and simply a fundamental level of its improvement should cost $1.5 million.
Neither disputed, however, the estimated overall cost for this entire project being perhaps $2.7 million (with potential cost increases due to delay in construction).
____ BlackPine Does Fine ____
Stallard’s (slightly adjusted) vote was in the end also available for un-tempered support of Jeff Morgan’s BlackPine Holdings projects involving multiple downtown restaurants — visibly stunning Opera House / State Theatre supporters — since Morgan walked away to pursue his various restaurant projects, with more money ($2 million in extremely favorable loans) than WOHF.
This occurred, despite a specific and direct plea from WOHF Executive Director, Jeff Kean, for the agency board / city council to please understand / comprehend that the genuine foundation for downtown revitalization is: Events and Entertainment Venues, not restaurants, which he referred to as accessory to this purpose.
Kean mentioned in testimony numerous examples of successful downtown renaissance being predicated upon such a basic, event-oriented priority, attempting to persuade the board / council toward fully funding WOHF’s acquisition and reformation of State Theatre.
Kean (and presumably the WOHF) desires full completion of this project by September, 2012, prior to opening of that edition of the Opera House production season. Kean also worries about the various complications and uncertainties connected with grant-based funding approaches.
While there was some acknowledgement of the obviously vast value of Morgan’s plans, most relevant public comment was directed toward advocating for agency tempering of his $2 million allocation, on grounds of over-stimulating restaurant creation in an inequitable manner and/or in conflict with conceptual priorities for successful development outlined by Kean.
Fat Cat Cafe co-owner, Jim Bohon, exemplified this nature of public comment to the agency, requesting that Morgan’s allocation be reduced to $1.5 million, with the other half million going to WOHF for the new State Theatre project.
Downtown resident Chris Holt also spoke repeatedly in favor of this general perspective.
____ Uncertainty Arises About WOHF Approval ____
Dismayed by having WOHF suddenly presented with an underfunded, grant-requiring project, which also represents a key civic compromise (fig-leaf) attempting to politically mitigate the undermining of State Theatre restoration (/ expansion) by combined influences of Petrovich, certain council members and an unreasonably conflicted and outdated DSP — Kean is uncertain whether the WHOF will approve such an extreme fiscal expedition.
If WOHF were to disapprove this plan, $1.887,500 would return to the redevelopment agency fund for potential re-allocation.