Finally satisfied that Carmel will end the year in the black, its City Council on Monday released more than $500,000 in arts funding that’s been on hold since April.
But an increasingly hawkish four-member majority held back another $200,000 earmarked for the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre, which has a $200,000 payment due to the city by the end of the year.
“I don’t see the benefit,” council member Eric Seidensticker said, likening it to making an interest-free loan. “That seems to be a very poor business decision, and I don’t support it.”
Adding fuel to the fire: Fundraising woes forced the not-for-profit to renegotiate its land contract with the Carmel Redevelopment Commission late last year, cutting a scheduled $400,000 payment in half.
Finance Committee Chairwoman Luci Snyder said she’d be happy to give the Civic the money as soon as she’s sure that this year’s payment won’t meet a similar fate.
“They shorted us half the rent last year and I don’t want that to happen again,” she said.
The community theater moved from Indianapolis to Carmel’s swanky Center for the Performing Arts in 2011. Ticket sales jumped, but donations dropped. And the lingering economic malaise sure didn’t help Civic’s bottom line.
So the city, which was refinancing $185 million in CRC debt already, extended the theater’s deal and lowered the initial payments.
“We want them to succeed,” said Mayor Jim Brainard.
Brainard asks the council to approve grants from the city’s Support for the Arts Fund every year, choosing organizations after an application-and-review process. This year, he requested $707,756 for 15 arts groups, including the Civic.
But council President Rick Sharp tabled the measure in April, saying the panel would not vote on it until members understood how the mayor intended to close a seven-figure budget shortfall.
The unlikely answer: the CRC.
Commission members on July 24 voted to transfer almost $1.6 million in tax-increment financing revenue to the city, now home to CRC staff and operations. The money had been budgeted for engineering, utility and streetscape work that isn’t likely to occur until sometime next year.
That funding, along with expected contributions from Carmel Utilities and Clay Township, was enough to get the resolution off the table (and into the line of fire).
Seidensticker wasn’t swayed by the mayor’s arts-as-an-economic-engine explanation for the Civic grant, or his assertion that Carmel needs to show its gratitude to City Center anchors like the theater.
“We were fortunate to have them come and join us here,” Brainard said. “It was a good economic development initiative for the city of Carmel, and we should support them.”
Councilor Ron Carter concurred, saying most of the organization’s cash-flow woes were the result of its move to Carmel.
“They were blind-sided by folks south of 96th Street,” he said of donors who opted not to cross the county line. “I, for one … want to make sure they have sufficient backing to stay here and be a viable part of our arts community.”
Of the other 14 arts grants, only two get into six-figure territory: $205,000 for Carmel Symphony Orchestra and $110,000 for Actors Theatre of Indiana.
What’s your take on the debate?