Carmel Performing Arts Center not too big to fail

Keywords Opinion

Cory Schouten’s [April 26 Focus] article regarding the supposed “momentum” for Carmel’s Performing
Arts Center (PAC) lacked information, and clouded the overall picture. Interviews were conducted with Mayor [Jim] Brainard,
Councilman [Rick] Sharp, who voted for all the funding that has doubled the cost of the PAC, and Councilwoman [Luci] Snyder.
These individuals continually orchestrate the mantra that the project is “too big to fail.” But potential failure
might be seen in the numbers.

The original pledge of an $80 million PAC has morphed to $169 million-plus, not $108 million as reported, and further building
additions and enhancements ordered by the mayor and his majority-appointed Carmel Redevelopment Commission (CRC) undoubtedly
will escalate the ultimate cost. Several LLC entities developed by the CRC, including one for $13 million for building the
500-seat Main Stage Theater (MST), have only recently been publicly disclosed. The question is how much more spending may
have been concealed from the public.

At issue is why the mayor and the Carmel Council originally approved the PAC without having any private or corporate donations
to commence the project, or to fund an endowment to secure its viability. Though the mayor has promised, for the last five
years, to raise $40 [million] to $60 million for that purpose, only a fractional amount has been collected.

Now the mayor has requested of the council a $2 million grant, from the city’s rainy-day fund, so that the PAC Foundation
can operate to year’s end. The mayor has heretofore assured Carmel citizens that no resident taxes will be used for
the PAC. However, this year he backpedaled on that pledge, claiming that he was referring only to construction costs.

In the interim, the mayor and CRC concluded an agreement to lure the Indianapolis Civic Theatre to the project. After 30
years of incremental payments, amounting to $10 million, Civic would be granted a 50-percent fee-simple interest in the MST,
an interest in the rehearsal hall, classrooms priority, usage of a 200-seat black-box theater not originally planned, and
a potential lock on every performing weekend of the year. It also disallowed any “Broadway-style” plays to be
held in the PAC venue by other theater groups. An unconscionable agreement, in my opinion, for a project that will cost Carmel
taxpayers $75 million or more, including long-term interest.

The mayor originally estimated a PAC $350,000 operating deficit per annum, but now it appears to be in the millions. This
does not bode well for Carmel’s fiscal stability if resident taxes, in addition to business property taxes, are continually
tendered to support or complete this project. Additionally, an Indianapolis Star article showed that millions of CRC debt
went unreported on a recent financial statement. More investigation is obviously needed in respect to many Carmel issues.

____________

Marnin Spigelman

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: IBJ is now using a new comment system. Your Disqus account will no longer work on the IBJ site. Instead, you can leave a comment on stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Past comments are not currently showing up on stories, but they will be added in the coming weeks. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.