A discussion about financing Park Theatre restoration caused tense moments between McMinnville officials during a Building and Grounds Committee meeting.
The first uneasy moment came when officials were discussing the possibility of funding culture similar to the way they fund recreation.
“We subsidize recreation to the tune of $1 million a year,” said city administrator David Rutherford. “Are you in a position or do you want to subsidize culture and arts at $80,000 a year? You’re the ones who get to make that decision.”
To the statement, Alderman Jimmy Haley added, “We just funded Bluegrass Underground. If that’s not culture, I don’t know what it is.”
The statement brought a quick response from Vice Mayor Everett Brock.
“We did not fund Bluegrass Underground. We bought advertising space. I’m getting sick and tired of hearing about us funding Bluegrass Underground. We bought advertising space to get to 350 million people. Don’t you think we should get on the same page?”
The second uneasy moment came when committee members appeared to be preparing to vote on a measure to do a comprehensive structural analysis of the Park Theatre before securing funds for the project.
“You are not going to get a second from me,” Alderman Billy Wood said to Alderman Junior Medley. “People on this board, who have proclaimed the decision to be wonderful here, have gone out on Main Street and said ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with those idiots wanting to spend money on that.’”
Wood says board members not on the committee voice support for the decision knowing they will not have to vote on the measure. Then, when criticized in the community, they blame the three on the committee for the decision.
“I’m sick and tired of people on this board playing politics,” he said. “If they don’t have to vote, they go out and say I don’t know what’s wrong with those turkeys. I didn’t vote for that. I want to take this to the full board to make everyone show their cards.”
Medley and Wood are members of the Building and Grounds Committee. The two voted to send the measure to the full board, rather than settling the situation in committee. Alderman Rick Barnes is also a member of the committee, but he was absent from the discussion.
When the measure was added to the board agenda Tuesday night, board members voted unanimously to pay up to $7,500 for the analysis to test the structural integrity of the building. Barnes was absent from that meeting as well.
In the midst of the tense moments and leading to the decision to move forward with the analysis, officials discussed the financial situation of renovating Park Theatre.
“We met with the city attorney and one of the contractors,” said Rutherford. “We spent about an hour. It appears the cost of construction will be $2 million.”
The cost is a complete renovation at $1.5 million, as well as an additional $500,000 for furniture, fixtures and architectural fees.
Work not included in the number is an estimated $94,000 for bid documents and another $7,500 will be needed to do a comprehensive structural analysis of the building.
When it comes to funding, the city has two options: 20-year bonds with an annual debt service payment of $180,000, or 12-year capital outlay notes with an annual debt service payment of $160,000 a year.
Rutherford says he has had discussions with Park Theatre Group members and they want to go with bonds, as the annual payment of $100,000 could be paid with operating costs. Anything over $100,000 may not be possible.
“The problem with bonds is that residents could create a referendum and then vote against you doing it,” Rutherford said. “If that is the case, then you have to do the 12 year. That would leave about $80,000 a year that you would have to make up.”
Park Theatre Group has $50,000 in hand, $30,000 in money verbally committed and $150,000 from the city/ IDB donation. However, group members would rather hold onto that money to help pay the first year’s debt service, says Rutherford.
Officials are currently in the middle of obtaining $2 million to pave streets and are considering borrowing another $1 million to build a new McMinnville Police Department facility. Each project comes with debt service payments.
“It may come down to if we have the money to cover debt service,” said Brock. “We may have to make a choice in what we want to do.”
City attorney Tim Pirtle says he is more concerned there has been no structural engineering study of the Park Theatre.
“If you don’t know that the structure is subject to being rehabilitated, you shouldn’t be borrowing for it,” he said. “It seems to me that before you can realistically commit larger dollars, you might want to see if you got something there.”
Medley added, “I think we know where we should start. We need to do an analysis on the building.”
Given the fact Park Theatre Group has available funding in hand, Brock questioned why the city has to fund the analysis.
“That’s kind of where the rub comes in,” said Rutherford. “Right now, we are kind of at a stand off. Somebody has got to decide and that somebody is the Board of Mayor and Aldermen because the city has the capability to finance the project.”
“It is our building,” said Mayor Norman Rone.
In agreement with Rone was Alderman Clair Cochran who added, “Regardless if the project moves forward or not, wouldn’t it be good for us to know the state of our building.”
No time frame was given for the comprehensive structural analysis to be complete.