Archive for August, 2005
“This is a time of preparation for us,” foundation spokeswoman Carolyn Cuthrell said. “Summer is always a challenging time for fundraising, with people away on vacation.” â€” “Arts Group’s Funds Shrink,” Richmond Times-Dispatch
God, I’d hate to be Carolyn Cuthrell. Coming up with excuses for VAPAF’s flaccid fund-raising on a monthly basis must be more tiring than explaining to Brad Armstrong why salmon polo shirts don’t flatter him.
Because I admire Carolyn, I’ve prepared a list of possible reasons why people aren’t giving the foundation any money that ought to carry her through to next August.
- September Buying back-to-school supplies is really tiring, plus there are a lot of barbecues to attend, and these days, people generally expect you to bring a side
- October Sewing Halloween costumes has come popular again, and it is totally time-consuming
- November British-Americans are desperately searching the Internet for fireworks to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day; the rest of us are deep-frying turkeys
- December Duh
- January Those credit card bills!
- February Chinese New Year + Valentine’s Day = no disposable income
- March Stocking up on BC Powder for St. Pat’s
- April Not just Easter, but that Ukrop’s Monument Avenue thing, plus a little thing called Egg Salad Week–I mean, who has the time?
- May Spring fever!
- June Father’s Day AND Flag Day? They’ll be lucky if they can remember to pay their property taxes
- July Too busy eating ribs
TSM at City by the James blogs up a storm today. Glad to have you in on the conversation, sir. I also really enjoyed Don’s elephant poop post, below.
It’s great to see that VAPAF supporters and apologists are finally taking the debate surrounding the downtown arts center seriously — and are willing to take on the project’s critics point by point, basing all opinions on sound reasoning and solid backup data.
For example: In just the past week or so, the public has learned that the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation…
- claims to have raised more than $70 million, but actually has
less than one million in its bank account.
- is planning to construct a shell of an arts center, not a real and functioning arts center
- has squandered the Carpenter Center’s $3 million endowment and may end up bankrupting the venue — leaving downtown Richmond with NO performing arts center at all.
- is employing a consultant that was alternately on the city payroll, a blatant conflict of interest that has still not been explained.
- has billed the city for extravagent expenses incurred by out-of-town consultants and well-compensated staff members, including limo rides, restaurant bills and more than $100,000 in “telephone” calls.
- has caused such a civic stink that even its most entrenched supporters on city council have been forced to admit that a public audit of the foundation’s books is necessary.
- has been telling two different stories about the source of its excessive executive salaries— one version of events to the city council in private and another to taxpayers and the press in public.
And to refute all of this, Clarke Bustard — the Times-Dispatch arts “writer” and all-around Foundation lapdog — offers in rebuttal:
Thanks for setting us straight, Clarkie. You can go back to sleep now.
That’s the slogan over at First Market Bank where Jim Ukrop presides as Chairman - at least during the time that he is not otherwise occupied putting out fires at his other Chairmanship at the VAPAF.
While we cannot vouch for the accuracy of this slogan for the customers of First Market Bank or Ukrops Supermarkets (lately my magic UVC card seems to have lost its price-shrinking powers), it certainly does appear that it all comes back to Chairman Ukrop in his dealings with the city.
You see, while the VAPAF’s work near 6th and Broad is stalled out because of an empty bank account and a questioning mayor, across the street at the Berry-Burk building, at 6th and Grace, work has just begun. The formerly handsome but presently shabby Berry-Burk was purchased in 1999 by the eponymously opaque Berry-Burk LLC. For nearly the next six years no significant repair work was done, and the blighted building became part of “the problem” on the Broad/Grace corridor downtown. Until a few days ago, vagrants were the only residents of this Richmond landmark. Urine-stained boxes, tattered umbrellas, old newspapers and empty bottles of malt liquor lay strewn about the building’s side entrance facing 6th Street.
What would spur a formerly neglectful owner into suddenly rehabbing now? It may have a little something to do with avoiding the spotlight and shame of owning a building in such wretched condition. But, more likely, it was just a good business decision. For the Berry-Burk sits at the epicenter of nearly $200 million of mostly taxpayer-funded improvements, $67 million of which were just completed: new sidewalks, new streetscapes, and, of course, a proposed $112 million arts center - the timing is just right.
So who is this savvy investor? Warren Buffett? No, it’s none other than Chairman Ukrop (who, through several LLC’s, also owns six other properties in and around the downtown area) - the same man pushing so hard to make all of the aforementioned taxpayer-funded improvements happen, the titular head of the same publicly financed foundation that seeks to plop a new arts center right across the street.
Whoa, you say, is this not a conflict of interest? This benevolent city father would never seek to line his own pockets and sup at the public trough! A quick flip of the property or hawking “luxury” condos would surely be beneath this great man. Perhaps… Perhaps once the Berry-Burk is scrubbed clean and again gleaming, he will choose, instead, to donate it to some worthy charity - another edifice for the arts? a facility for the children?
We can’t wait for the answer.
Armstrong said portions of certain salaries, including Chief Operating Officer Michele Walter’s, have been allocated as preconstruction expenses and forwarded to the city for reimbursement. He said the practice was reviewed by the previous administration and follows generally accepted accounting principles, and he provided a letter dated yesterday in support of that from the foundation’s accountants, Kirby & Associates.
He also said that “not a penny” of his salary was among the expenses forwarded to the city. —Richmond Times-Dispatch, August 20
Gee, that’s kind of interesting. Because here’s what VAPAF told council—for some reason in all-caps—on May 20 (click here to download a 1MB pdf of the letter):
WHEN THE VIRGINIA PERFORMING ARTS FOUNDATION WAS ESTABLISHED, THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS COMMITTED THEY WOULD GIVE THE MONEY FOR ALL OPERATING EXPENSES WHICH INCLUDES SALARIES. THIS WAS ACHIEVED SO ALL OTHER GIFTS AND PUBLIC DOLLARS COULD BE USED FOR THE PROJECT.
ANYWAY, I guess the question here is: Which is it? Is the board paying VAPAF’s ludicrous salaries, or does that privelege go to those of us who pay taxes in Richmond?
Gee I hate to add to Jim Ukrop’s complaint that the media’s just “dripping bad news” about the arts center, but we have a schedule to keep.
Wednesday’s document is a rather interesting email exchange between Vicki Dickerson of the Projects Group, Jay Johnson of Gilbane and Michele Walter of VAPAF. (You can download a 429kB pdf of it here.) It discusses the fee for that building permit (you know, the one VAPAF completely bungled, then tried to bill the city for!) and notes something interesting.
Building permit fees are based on the cost of the project.
The project in question is only “bricks and mortar.”
That’s right folks, the Shell is back.
Please note that based on Bruce’s email listed below we have evaluated the Building Permit costs based on just “bricks and mortar”, which is approximately $40,015,000. This cost does not include the following: mechanical, electrical and plumbing; painting (including historic); hardscape; tenant fit out; FF&E; signage; commissioned sculptures; theater drapery; rigging and AV equipment.
The “wonderful multipurpose performance hall [that] will be a state-of-the-art venue that will enrich the cultural and entertainment life of Central Virginians for many years to come” promised by Brad Armstrong? Gee, it sure sounds like it’s gonna be four walls with nothing behind them.
Or perhaps the wrong paperwork got filed, and the wrong permit got paid for?
Looking forward to hearing the answers on this one.
From that letter:
So. in summary, even in an unrealistic, worst case scenario where we get zero of the $30MM soughtfrom the Assembly [They got 8.5 million], zero of the $12MM sought thru the TOT [the transient occupancy tax is dead], zero of the remaining$15.8MMportion of City funding [Mayor Wilder sure seems to think this is the case], and zero from ongoing private or pubiic fundraising,we still have $23MM in cash, pledges and tax credits to cover $21 MM in remaining hard costs. In the unlikely event that this should be the case, the VAPAF Executive Committee would commit itself to raise the additional funds for re-design and operations during the completion of that part of the project. For obvious reasons, it is in the Foundation’s interest to complete and re-open a renovated CCPA as soon as possible.
Please feel free to give me a call if you would like additional information.
Chief Operating Officer
You know, it sounds like pretty much all those “unlikely events” have transpired. It’s time to save the Carpenter Center and chalk everything else up to experience.
Whoops! It seems words can come back to haunt you. Today Mayor Wilder insisted in a press release that the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation (above) must follow contractual commitments that it made when acquiring the Carpenter Center.
If you’d like to read the Carpenter Center acquisition documents, you can download a 3MB pdf of them here.
And if you don’t feel like downloading it, here’s the key paragraph:
It is understood that, in the highly unlikely event that sufficient funds cannot be raised to build out the entire City block, bounded on the east by 7th Street, on the south by Grace Street, on the west by 6th Street and on the north by Broad Street (the “Thalhimer’s Block”), the VAPAF will, as its first priority, renovate and expand the existing Carpenter Center, expand its stagehouse, expand the lobbies with audience amenities, and update the CCPA technological capabilities with a targeted completion date of no later than September 1,2007, all in accordance with and using the funds designated therefore described in that certain letter to Martin J. Rust, President, Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts, from Michele Walter, Chief Operating Officer of VAPAF, dated January 25,2005, a copy of which is attached hereto as Exhibit C and by this reference made a part hereof (the “Letter”). VAPAF hereby acknowledges, understands and agrees that the statements of VAPAF in the Letter and the provisions of this Paragraph 2 are material inducements to CCPA to enter into this Agreement.
Hey, somebody’s got to be committed to transparency in this whole Virginia Performing Arts Foundation mess; if city council’s not interested, it might as well be us! So, ladies and germs, we are pleased to present the fruit of our most recent FOIA request: a new batch of current bank statements for VAPAF and the Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts.
Bank accounts go up, and bank accounts go down, to paraphrase Carolyn Cuthrell, but like mine, VAPAF’s don’t seem to go anywhere, really. Maybe that’s because they have such astonishing salaries to pay, but at least they’re trying to save some money by billing the city for fees they paid…to the city (cue the sound of the Mayor’s head exploding)!
Anyway, for those keeping score:
VAPAF last month: $759,333.05
VAPAF this month: $924,100.47
Net gain: $164,767.42
CCPA last month: $717,575.30
CCPA this month: $467,898.70
Net loss: $249,676.60
TOTAL LOSS FOR JULY: $84,909.18
Well, building permits are expensive.
We have a real fun week planned–be sure to check back!
An interesting post from Norm, who takes a look at VAPAF’s financial statements and notes some weirdness with historic tax credits:
This is counted as money raised. But the note in the TD says “This revenue estimated to come from the sale of tax credits related to improvements to the Carpenter Center.”
In others words, VAPAF is claiming almost $5 million in proceeds from credits it has not sold for improvements it has not made.
Later, noting the tomfoolery surrounding the foundation’s latest black eye, he says:
The more I look at this stuff, the more it seems to me that what’s required is not a “summit” to bring all sides to some sort of Potemkin village-like agreement.
Rather, what may be required to get to the bottom of all of this is an investigation by the Commonwealth’s Attorney. Have public funds been misappropriated? Have public personnel violated conflict of interest rules? Has the foundation followed state and local requirements on contracting? Are the financial statements presented to justify further public funding adequate and accurate?
I’m of the opinion now that this is no longer a political question. It may, possibly, be a legal one. The only way to know for sure is for someone to ask the CA what he thinks.
Just the opinion of a “whiner with a website”? That’s how our financial concerns were dismissed just a few months ago.