Basalt council approves seed money for arts center, orders feasibility study

Proponents of The Arts Center At Willits believe the facility would draw people from throughout the midvalley.
Courtesy image |

The Basalt Town Council approved an agreement Tuesday night that supplies The Arts Campus at Willits with funds to continue pursuing a performing-arts and events center.

The council voted 6-1 to provide as much as $230,000 from 2015-17 to the nonprofit organization pursuing the center. It’s spent about $124,000 so far. The funds come from a real estate transfer assessment at Willits rather than the town’s general fund. There is a real estate assessment dedicated to arts-related expenses.

The council didn’t give the center carte blanche. The $7.7 million arts center must pass a fiscal feasibility analysis performed by an independent party that will be selected by the council.

The economic analysis will look at the proposed size and development plan, the demand for the programming and the ability of the facility to be economically sustainable.

The analysis must be finished by Jan. 31. “(The Arts Campus at Willits) will be given an opportunity to adjust its plan and program to address any concern identified by the preliminary analysis,” said the resolution passed by the council. The process is supposed to be completed by May 1.

If the council isn’t convinced that the project is feasible, the town reserves the right to cut further funding and decline providing a lease for a site at Willits Town Center. The town owns a three-quarter acre site that was dedicated to the government by the developer at the time of the Willits approval in 2001.

Town officials said they want to find a plan that works for the benefit of the community and results in a performing-arts and events center. The outlined process is designed “to give us comfort that this will work,” Councilman Auden Schendler said.

The Arts Campus at Willits plans to raise the funds for construction of the facility. It aims to create an endowment to make sure the facility, once built, is properly operated and maintained.

The relationship between The Arts Campus at Willits and the town was on the rocks earlier this year. Town officials were critical of The Arts Campus at Willits’ accounting and fiscal accountability.

“I know this fund has been kind of loosey-goosey, quite honestly,” Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said. But she said town officials made commitments for funding The Arts Campus at Willits. She voiced support for doing a better job in the future of defining how the funds can be spent.

Councilman Bernie Grauer said he was “pretty skeptical” of The Arts Campus at Willits because of questions about its spending and he asked tough questions of officials with the nonprofit during the summer. He has met extensively with The Arts Campus at Willits officials since then and found they took steps to improve their accounting by hiring a CPA.

“He has scrubbed their financials,” Grauer said. That should give the town and potential donors assurances, he said.

Councilman Gary Tennenbaum said the town started down a path with The Arts Campus at Willits and has a responsibility to continue. “I think the path is starting to clear up,” he said.

The results of the economic feasibility analysis will be critical, he added. By the middle of next year, the community will know what direction it is going with the center, he said.

Councilwoman Katie Schwoerer voted against the agreement because she felt funds should be spent on a building and an endowment to run it rather than salaries, benefits and rent, as The Arts Campus at Willits is proposing.