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Augusta arts groups request SPLOST funds for venues, cultural projects

Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014 5:36 PM
Last updated Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014 9:43 AM
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Big visions for Augusta’s cultural arts scene are on the horizon, if taxpayers foot the bill.

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The Imperial Theatre located on Broad Street in downtown Augusta is requesting $6 million of the special purpose local option sales tax to complete venue renovations.  FILE/STAFF
FILE/STAFF
The Imperial Theatre located on Broad Street in downtown Augusta is requesting $6 million of the special purpose local option sales tax to complete venue renovations.

Renovating historic theaters, planning for new performing arts venues and infusing the city with sculptures and murals are among requests for money from the next phase of the special purpose local option sales tax. Several nonprofit agencies want a share of the tax collections, which they say would benefit the city’s rise as a mecca for the arts.

The requests will have to pass a vetting of the Augusta Commission before going to taxpayers for a vote. Commissioners are narrowing a $721 million project wish list to $200 million for the sales tax package that the city has depended on since 1988 to finance capital projects.

Agencies outside the city government, Hephzibah or Blythe that are requesting SPLOST 7 dollars for the arts include:

• Imperial Theatre: $6 million to complete renovations to the historic Broad Street venue

• Symphony Orchestra Augusta: $12.9 million for Miller Theater renovations and a new music institute

• Paine College: $8 million for the new James Brown Community and Fine Arts Cultural Center

• Augusta Mini Theatre: $1.8 million for a 250-seat theater

• Greater Augusta Arts Council: more than $14 million for public arts such as sculptures and murals at city gateways, bus hubs and parks, $2 million for affordable living space for artists and $32,000 for a public arts master plan

Brenda Durant, executive director of the Greater Augusta Arts Council, said the city has spent years building a new judicial center, sheriff’s administration building and other much-needed facilities. In addition to the Miller and Imperial renovations, the city needs a new performing arts center on the river to replace the Bell Auditorium, she said.

“It is time we sat in a state-of-the-art theater. Arts have been on the back burner,” Durant said.

Mayor Pro-Tem Corey Johnson, a vocal proponent of a performing arts center on the river, did not respond to multiple voicemails left on his cell phone. Neither did Matt Kwatinetz, the director of Mayor Deke Copenhaver’s Augusta Regional Collaboration Project, who has been studying a downtown arts district.

Donna Williams, Augusta’s finance director, said SPLOST projects by nongovernmental agencies must meet guidelines that benefit the advancement of the community. In most cases, 25 percent matching funds are required before tax allocations are disbursed.

“It’s not just an outright gift,” she said.

Symphony Orchestra Augusta Executive Director Mieko di Sano said the 1,300-seat Miller Theater will complement the existing Imperial, creating a downtown theater district on the 700 block of Broad Street. The Miller and its attached music institute will host events for more than just the symphony.

The current SPLOST phase allocated $5.1 million to the Miller and $1.25 million to the Imperial. More money would help complete the projects, leaders said.

“(SPLOST 7) would be the key to enable not only what we’d like to be able to do but what we need to be able to do,” said Imperial Theatre Executive Director Charles Scavullo.

The Imperial would use the tax dollars to replace the heating and air unit in the main seating area, expand the front of the house and create access to the second floor and basement, Scavullo said. Those additions are the last components of renovations that began in the early 1990s.

Brandon Brown, Paine College’s vice president of institutional advancement, said the college wants to be a part of growing Augusta’s cultural arts. The $8 million SPLOST request would go towards a 1,400-seat theater with a recording studio costing $14 million total.

“We should be a resource for the tax-paying citizens,” said Brown, adding that Paine returns money to the area economy. “It’s a sound investment when citizens reinvest in the community.”

Augusta Mini Theatre asked for the smallest SPLOST amount of the arts groups. Executive Director Tyrone Butler said $1.8 million would build a 250-seat theater where low-income arts students can learn stage techniques such as lighting, sound and backstage jobs.

Located on Deans Bridge Road, Augusta Mini Theatre was allocated $857,000 in SPLOST 6 but has not yet raised the required 25 percent matching funds.

“Of course, we want to get the present match out of the way before we get the other one,” Butler said.

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justthefacts
24950
Points
justthefacts 02/09/14 - 09:48 am
4
0
Seenit

I was the one reading the comic books for free......and Barney never said a word about it.

badmoon426
1187
Points
badmoon426 02/09/14 - 10:29 am
8
0
Needs before...

...wants.

The arts in Augusta are a wonderful thing to have but they need to be relatively self sustaining. The patrons should be supporting their particular interests and venues more than it being driven by the taxpayer. Has anyone heard of endowments and grants from philanthropic organizations and trusts in this town?

The restoration of the Imperial and the Miller Theater's should happen but what has happened with previous SPLOST money set aside for them? A very valid question.

What about all the previously allocated SPLOST money has it been spent on the projects it was designated or is it is languishing around in some bank account somewhere?

The real question as brought up else where in this discussion is there transparency and accountability in the use of these funds? The taxpayer is mad as Hell and getting tired of being perceived as a bottomless piggy bank by the local government.

Needs before wants.

blues550
380
Points
blues550 02/09/14 - 10:47 am
0
0
No To Money For Arts
Unpublished

With all the infrastructure problems facing Augusta the last thing needed is to spend ANY money on the arts...let them fund their own programs. What a waste.

story1
807
Points
story1 02/09/14 - 10:56 am
6
0
Bad moon

Lot of great points. The local arts and venues should be self sustaining. Millions of tax dollars have been handed to each entity with no accounting of how the money has been spent. Splost money has actually disappeared with no questions from city leaders or investigation. Interesting but sad for this community. I'm voting No unless the money is ONLY designated for city infrastructure.

countyman
21626
Points
countyman 02/09/14 - 01:43 pm
1
9
Mini Theatre

How much money can you spend on infrastructure or public safety? The T-splost is another funding source providing new infrastructure.. Augusta is culturally behind many peer cities and the city is not 'cool'... The city will sooner or later have to build something in order to attract the private sector(Performing Arts center, Water spark, Hephzibah new facilities, Diamond Lakes expansion)..

Myfather.. The kids actually help perform in the shows at the Mini theatre.

Brad Owens.. What areas/zip codes of Augusta produce the most criminals? What areas have the least amount of two parent homes? Nobody is saying all of the poor/working class people need a hand out, but many kids do need a hand up.

Do you realize the amount of peer pressure they face daily? Do you expect for them to walk along the repaved Deans Bridge rd(next to K-Mart) to get away from the atmosphere? Or would the mini theater create a safe haven to escape the negative surroundings?

Many young teenagers will have to rely on a mentor to achieve certain things in life, because nobody in the child's family may have went past high school..

The Mini Theater should be required to raise the matching funds and the non profits, private sector, etc should all be helping them..

Brad Owens
4906
Points
Brad Owens 02/09/14 - 11:36 am
6
0
badmoon426..

EXACTLY! You get it my friend.

It seems that certain groups get everything they want (both black and white rich and richer) and there is absolutely NO requirement to be accountable for the money.

They don't need to be transparent with the spending, accountable to the taxpayer and no one ever seems to study the plans to make sure the investment we are making will have a return for us.

It is time for the voters and taxpayers to let those in charge know what we expect is NOT a bunch of people's personal "dreams" being built for them on OUR dime, but the COMMON needs of the community being met with the common taxes paid.

NEEDS before WANTS.

My mottos...

"Needs before Wants"

"Truth before Spin"

"Action not Talk"

Brad

countyman
21626
Points
countyman 02/09/14 - 01:44 pm
1
8
Reality

Can we please stop portraying that Richmond County is paying for splost by itself?

The majority of residents in Columbia County shop in Richmond County and the county is the main hub of the CSRA.. The outlet mall and Cabela's will attract even more people from outside the area..

Can we please stop portraying that everybody wants the entire county to get their fair share?

The citizens who live in West Augusta, Summerville, Forest Hills, and North Richmond county always have to rely on private investment. The discussions always have to fall into the downtown/inner city vs South Augusta.

Brad Owens
4906
Points
Brad Owens 02/09/14 - 12:11 pm
7
0
countyman...

You plainly said, as did corgimom, that we either pay the minitheatre or pay the jailer...that is a load of bollocks.

Also, I have no problem with private entities raising all the money they can from the private sector to support these private ventures.. keyword there is PRIVATE..

You all love to spend tax monieson things that make you feel good but why not think about WHY those zip codes have so many single parent homes and so much crime.. I can assure you it is NOT because they don't have a "250-seat theater where low-income arts students can learn stage techniques such as lighting, sound and backstage jobs."

You all need to focus all this remarkable energy towards curing the disease instead of treating the symptoms.

NEEDS before WANTS,

Brad

Brad Owens
4906
Points
Brad Owens 02/09/14 - 12:14 pm
8
0
A majority countyman?

You REALLY think a majority of Columbia County citizens shop in Richmond County? Can you provide me a reliable source for that conjecture you state as fact?

The real problem is you need to stick to facts and actual reality, not the fantasy false "reality" you seem to live in.

Brad

seenitB4
97022
Points
seenitB4 02/09/14 - 12:22 pm
5
0
ctyman said

"Augusta is culturally behind many peer cities and the city is not 'cool'... "

Please stop bashing our beloved city..that isn't cool of you...(do you see that you do what you blame on others??)

Riverman1
93342
Points
Riverman1 02/09/14 - 12:35 pm
8
0
Some try to make it appear a

Some try to make it appear a sales tax of any kind is not a real tax. It's interesting that private projects appear to be for groups catering to mainly white or black folks.

nocnoc
49121
Points
nocnoc 02/09/14 - 01:04 pm
5
0
As I said yesterday about SPLOST

This SPLOST has quickly become nothing more than a collection of TOSSED together PORK BARREL projects to make KEY PEOPLE happy. To spread a little here and a little there.

THE SPLOST LAWS NEEDS SOME CHANGES
It is currently looking like the TAXPAYERS will have to vote for half dozen projects that they oppose in order to pass the 1 or 2 that they might support like Infrastructure needs. Wasting 90 cents on the dollar for PORK FAT to get 10 cents worth meat.

UNDERSTAND THE GAME & THE REASON FOR THE RUSH
Holding any SPLOST referendums during local elections with low expected voter turnout and the special interests promoting the SPLOST naturally will have a greater chance of passing the referendum.

A FEW SUGGESTIONS:
* voters should reject the multiplicative practice of being forced to vote on any SPLOST referendum that combine multiple projects into one referendum, or that are held during special or low turnout elections.

* SPLOST projects should be voted on individually. Voted upon and approved or rejected by the voters in the general election. If voter turn out is below 50% of the registered Voter roll, The purposed SPLOST should be automatically declined.

* Any purposed SPLOST project should be specific enough that the voter can know what they are approving or rejecting. Just saying $34M for X or Y is not being specific. A PDF file with in depth details should be available on the front page of the County Website and deep public
review. A review period of not less than 45 days prior to election.

* any SPLOST projects that increase by 10% whether in cost or scope should be brought back before the voters for re-approval.

* Limiting SPLOST programs in duration to no more than 5 years. This way the people that approved the SPLOST are more likely to be around, to pay for it as taxpayers. Aka called having some skin in the game... Just look how long ARC had to live with a few
really long stupid and wasteful SPLOST boon dongles already.

THE SPLOST PROCESS NEEDS TO BE NARROWED DOWN
and the Politicians hands tied on how it can be used in the
future. Because to, too many of them it has become nothing more than a large PORK TREE.

countyman
21626
Points
countyman 02/09/14 - 01:11 pm
1
5
Shopping

What large shopping centers are located in CC besides Mullins Crossing?

The Augusta mall, CBD, Augusta Exchange, many of the businesses on Washington road, Surrey Center, Village at Riverwatch, etc are located in Richmond County..

''Shoppers have spoken and Columbia County is listening. Residents say they want an outlet mall. The information comes from a survey conducted last year by the county's Development Services Division. It asked the shopping preferences of residents. About 93 percent of those who responded said they travel outside Columbia County for their shopping needs.''
http://www.nbc26.tv/story/21739042/survey-finds-columbia-county-resident...

nocnoc
49121
Points
nocnoc 02/09/14 - 01:16 pm
3
0
MAYBE, JUST MAYBE

if enough voters mailed The County Commissioners one of the following it might sink in.

Dollar Tree & Dollar General carry one or the other.

Big "Not Again!" Eraser

Big "BIG Mistake" Eraser

corgimom
38280
Points
corgimom 02/09/14 - 01:19 pm
1
6
Brad, I have no idea what

Brad, I have no idea what salary they receive now, but when I knew them, it was peanuts. They are not living high on the hog by any means. However, you should ask to take a look at their audited financial statements.

Take a look at where the Augusta Mini-Theatre is at.

Take a look where Glenn Hills Middle School is.

If you don't think that area needs some positive direction for kids, then I don't know what to tell you.

The Augusta Mini-Theatre doesn't have wealthy patrons to support them, Brad. The parents of those kids don't have any money to support the arts.

The Augusta Mini-Theatre uses every dollar that they are given wisely. That's how they were able to start with literally nothing, and I mean nothing.

They have helped thousands of kids over the years. In this age of school budget cuts, for poor kids in Augusta, this is about the only place for them to develop their talents.

Augusta can pay millions of year for a TEE Center that is hardly used, to put more money in rich people's pockets, but Augusta can't help poor kids in healthy, positive ways. But then the RCBOE has no problem paying for football teams for the high schools.

I say that is a messed-up, dysfunctional government that would do such a thing.

I wonder how many of the poor kids at Davidson have participated in the Augusta Mini-Theatre activities? My guess is, a lot of them.

I urge everyone that is looking for an Augusta charity to support that involves children to donate to the Mini-Theatre.

corgimom
38280
Points
corgimom 02/09/14 - 01:24 pm
1
6
By the way, Brad, the Augusta

By the way, Brad, the Augusta Mini-Theatre is a non-profit organization and because they receive grants, they are required to be audited every year by a CPA.

They are probably one of the few organizations in town that can actually tell you where the money came from and where it went.

Brad, how can you have lived here all these years, be so involved in the community, and not known of an organization that has been here since 1975, that has performed all over the city?

nocnoc
49121
Points
nocnoc 02/09/14 - 03:05 pm
6
0
CONSIDER DUAL USE SPENDING

If it must be spent, then why not enhance RCBOE funding a little
to allow wider ARC wide school auditorium use at responsible fees for these mini Theaters?

Of course certain restrictions need apply ....
We can't have the NUDE version of "HAIR" being put on in a public school or some of the more pointed ultra-liberal arts/plays.

Brad Owens
4906
Points
Brad Owens 02/09/14 - 03:06 pm
7
0
Oh I know it alright...

That is why I have these questions.

Did you see me supporting the TEE Center or opposing it?

Did you see me supporting millions in subsidies going to the TEE or opposing it?

I guess you logic is like this, "Those rich white people get tax money and it is wrong, so we must have it for this group too.." You just leave out the fact they are BOTH equally wrong and no one has moral superiority due to whom the money goes to.

If his work is so wonderful, why can't he come up with matching funds? Same goes for the SOA or any organization (white or black, west or east, rich or poor) where tax monies are spent, why are we asked to support any of this without the NEEDS being met first?

You act like these folks are martyrs for getting MILLIONS in tax dollars to build their private organization a money making structure.

The fact is, this is a livelyhood for them and so why should we pay to build him more private buildings that the public will never be able to use?

Is the SOA going to allow free use of the Miller?

I know the IMperial doesn't allow free use by the public yet we are being asked to pony up for all of these.

All of the Art items should be a separate line item on the ballot. The commission can do that, they did it when the "Billy" barn idea was proposed for the Regency Mall and they can do it now. If Tyrne is OK with being a separate line item I say let his private building slush fund be on this SPLOST, as long as he raises the needed money to get the SPLOST 7 monies released before the ballot is made.

Oh, and by the way, I don't care where they are located or who they serve. Unworthiness is based on the return on the money we taxpayers get, not who might be helped or why.

Brad

myfather15
56422
Points
myfather15 02/09/14 - 03:21 pm
4
1
Corgimom

"And myfather, I can personally attest that the Butlers are fine, decent, hard-working, honest Christian people."

I never said they weren't; matter of fact, I didn't even mention them. ICL is right, I was just talking about children going to VIEW the preforming arts; not participate. But I must agree ICL, I don't see near the amount of kids on the fields anymore; many are at home watching TV or playing video games. We just didn't have much of that stuff.

"Too bad that your outlook on life is so distorted, that you would automatically think they would be doing something wrong."

How in the world did you get that I was implying these kids were doing something wrong? Slow down and take some deep breaths!! Maybe I was wrong that children would rather be playing sports, but I certainly wasn't claiming they were doing anything wrong.

I was actually talking about those making the request for millions of dollars; but I wasn't saying they are bad either, just saying it doesn't sound like a reasonable request.

myfather15
56422
Points
myfather15 02/09/14 - 03:37 pm
4
1
Corgimom

"I urge everyone that is looking for an Augusta charity to support that involves children to donate to the Mini-Theatre."

Now, you're talking right!! Go to people's hearts, not rob their walets!! People SHOULD donate to these people and other like projects. American's are the most Charitable people on earth!! We LOVE to help others!! But we are also the first to backlash when it's being FORCED upon us, especially without any oversight to how the money is being spent!! Force is never a good thing with the American spirit!! Rebellion, is an automatic reaction to force!!

seenitB4
97022
Points
seenitB4 02/09/14 - 03:43 pm
3
0
I can agree with corgi on this

That area of town really needs some help..Glenn Hills--Wheeless--Richmond Hill--Lumpkin Rd....maybe more than the Broad St area as a matter of fact.....I also agree that mentors are a good way to go......if the need is there maybe some can step up to the plate & volunteer & also ask for donations.

seenitB4
97022
Points
seenitB4 02/09/14 - 03:44 pm
2
0
myfather

We were thinking alike....same time.

corgimom
38280
Points
corgimom 02/09/14 - 04:02 pm
0
4
Augusta talks out of both

Augusta talks out of both sides of their mouth.

A magnet school for the arts, because that's so important- but no money for the Mini Theatre.

Middle class and wealthy parents can afford lessons for their children. But what do poor children do?

When I was a child, we went to plays and musicals and concerts AND sports events. In 6th grade we went on a field trip to the opera. The Magic Flute, by Mozart. It was great. I played a musical instrument- because at that time, where I lived, band started in school at 4th grade. If it hadn't been for school, no, I never would've learned how to play.

Just because some people chose not to go to those events, doesn't mean that they weren't worthwhile for others. But if some child has a dream of going to college, it helps a lot to have been exposed to things like this- because they will be exposed to them again in college, as part of their education.

There are so many poor children in RCBOE, and the BROKE school system can't afford to fund the arts. And there are so many really talented children, that could be their ticket out of welfare- and doesn't everybody on here harp about that constantly, breaking generational welfare and getting these low-income kids doing something productive, and getting scholarships to colleges?

Without that funding, there isn't any way to do it for those kids. They certainly won't get that in the BROKE school system- and Brad, I believe that you are thinking back to your own days in school, when arts programs were offered. It isn't now. Budget cuts, you know.

There are just too many charities these days chasing too few dollars. I would far rather see money being given that will directly help children than to finance something like the Miller Theatre- the biggest, most decrepit, money pit on Broad St. Even Peter Knox didn't want it. It's especially a bad idea when there is talk of building a PAC.

corgimom
38280
Points
corgimom 02/09/14 - 04:06 pm
0
3
"But we are also the first to

"But we are also the first to backlash when it's being FORCED upon us, especially without any oversight to how the money is being spent!!"

Are you aware that because they are audited by a CPA firm, that is part of the audit, to make sure the money is spent exactly how the grant application specifies? The CPA has to read the grant application, the money has to be kept in a specific fund, and it can only be spent on whatever the grant was for, and nothing else.

So yes, there IS oversight. As in, an independent CPA firm, with the financial statements available to whoever wants to look at them. It doesn't get any better than that.

I don't know why you would think there wasn't any oversight.

corgimom
38280
Points
corgimom 02/09/14 - 04:12 pm
0
4
Oh, and Brad- the Augusta

Oh, and Brad- the Augusta Mini-Theatre doesn't "make money" like you think they do. That's why they are having trouble coming up with matching funds.

They don't charge high prices for their performances, they are low priced so that people can afford to come see them. And they perform many places for free.

Brad Owens
4906
Points
Brad Owens 02/09/14 - 04:56 pm
4
0
corgimom...

It most certainly IS a money making venture for "Tbone" of he would not be doing it.

My question is, how much does he pay himself and his family?

I wish the county would have come along and built my building form me and subsidized my own business when I owned one in downtown.

He owns the business and he lives off of it using buildings that tax dollars paid for. Tell me I am wrong? There is absolutely no excuse for comparing working and middle class folks for the purpose of trying to make this seem ok.

This is a PRIVATE company, owned by Tbone and he makes his living off of it. His facilities were tax payer built yet we have no accountability or sa so in how they are used, even the TEE Center can't claim that.

I see the GAAC bringing in thousands of people for events and they support a WIDE variety of arts in our town, not just "urban" and "underprivileged" folks (which we all know is PC code for certain ethnic groups) so they are not even in the same boat.

Can you honestly compare the Minitheatre to the TEE Center?

As I said before, they can't even raise the money to get the SPLOST 7 released, so why should they be on this one.

Also, there is PLENTY of existing space that can be used to train gaffers and grips without spending another $1.8 million.

Brad

badmoon426
1187
Points
badmoon426 02/09/14 - 05:13 pm
2
0
The Deke...

...Copenhaver administration would be easily characterized as an administration lacking in transparency and with little accountability. Now they come again with a list of projects wanting a special tax.

Excuse me be I believe the mayor and the groups seeking these funds for these projects need to thoroughly elaborate on the need and return on investment.

I believe there is previous SPLOST money still unused or was allocated and the project never received the funds. What gives there?

My question is what the Hell is going on with our tax dollars. There needs to be accountability from an administration that has performed wonderfully in cutting ribbons but has not demonstrated the first bit of common sense in fiscal accountability.

Needs before wants...

badmoon426
1187
Points
badmoon426 02/09/14 - 05:22 pm
4
0
For A Mayor...

...that re-upped his endorsement of Nathan 'Lets Make A' Deal for his campaign for re-election.

I can only assume that the mayor is a Republican or Republican leaning but why is he adding all the pork to his SPLOST request? It to me seems like to me the mayor is defining a new breed of Republican, 'the tax and spent Republican'.

Needs before wants...

badmoon426
1187
Points
badmoon426 02/09/14 - 05:27 pm
2
0
Another thought...

...when did the Augusta Richmond County taxpayer and its government cross the line and start supporting private business interests?

We already have the white elephant call the TEE Center and its parking deck. How many more do we want?

Accountability and Transparency in local government...

badmoon426
1187
Points
badmoon426 02/09/14 - 05:41 pm
1
0
Oversight...

...I assume this is the same accounting firm with its CPA's that were providing oversight for the TEE Center and its parking deck are providing oversight for SPLOST?

Needs before wants...

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