Basalt government, arts center proponents back on track
The Basalt town government has resumed work with the proponents of a performing arts center at Willits Town Center, but the facility must still pass muster in a third-party economic feasibility study.
Councilman Bernie Grauer reported to other Town Council members Tuesday night that the “considerable concerns” he had about the financial practices and accounting by The Arts Campus at Willits were eased after he met last week with the organization’s managing director, Ryan Honey.
Grauer recommended that the town government release unspent funds from the $130,000 committed to The Arts Campus at Willits for 2015. About $11,000 wasn’t spent, he said.
Grauer said he also is recommending that the town release $100,000 committed to the arts campus for 2016. That reverses his position from early last month when Grauer said he had “lost confidence” in the nonprofit organization over financial issues. At that point, he advised the council to terminate a proposed development agreement that would have allowed The Arts Campus at Willits to move forward with using 0.75 acres of town-owned land at Willits for the center.
The council never took action but extended the deadline for a development agreement until Sept. 30. Meanwhile, Grauer said he met with Honey at the urging of Mayor Jacque Whitsitt to see if Grauer’s financial concerns could be addressed. After meeting, Grauer said he is convinced there is a “financially sound and responsible process” in place regarding The Arts Campus at Willits’ use of public funds.
The council is scheduled to consider releasing the funds and signing a development agreement at its Sept. 27 meeting. The Arts Campus at Willits would still face a hurdle. Grauer said he will recommend the council use funds from a real estate transfer assessment at Willits to commission a feasibility study on the arts center. That study would determine if an arts campus could attract enough paying customers with its events to cover its operations expenses.
Proponents of the facility want to build a $7.7 million performing arts center that includes a large venue for performances, a smaller theater for lectures and movies and a lawn that could host events. The facility also will include a commercial-grade kitchen for demonstrations and events. Proponents said the campus would host more than 200 events per year and draw from the midvalley and downvalley.
The private funding for construction would be raised by The Arts Campus at Willits. A feasibility study by a Denver consultant plus an analysis by Honey indicated the performing arts center is economically viable. However, Honey said Wednesday that The Arts Campus at Willits would support an independent analysis commissioned by the town.
“It’s really important that the town feels confident with what we do,” he said.
The Arts Campus at Willits hopes to open the performing arts center in summer 2019. Construction would require 10 to 12 months, so the goal is to reach an agreement with the town as quickly as possible and focus on fundraising, Honey said.
Grauer told the council that the town may be in a position to consider a lease for the site by May.
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