Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Creative inevitability

Like coffins buried in a swamp, ideas for grandiose capital projects keep rising to the surface no matter how often they're pushed down once they've tickled the fancy of politicians and their favourite constituencies. And sooner or later, Londoners will as surely be on the hook for a performing arts centre, now estimated according to a city staff report to come in at $55 million plus land and operating costs. A small matter for the creative cities dogma to absorb, but a burden for taxpayers already staggering under a municipal debt-load of over $300 million and sky-rocketing property taxes since the most recent spate of politically aggrandizing capital projects, which included the John Labatt Centre, London Convention Centre, and the new Central Library and Covent Garden Market.

Although official approval probably won't come to pass this year or the next, even politicians dubious of the centre's merits are not quite rash enough to oppose the idea directly, ensuring that the item will remain on the political agenda and will continue to attract attention, staff reports, and seed money from budget surpluses, as has already been proposed.

"I think it's going to be a tough sell to the general public," Controller Bud Polhill said last night, his observation repeated by others. "There's a specific group of people who would frequent the place asking a whole lot of Londoners to carry the costs."

His comments provoked Controller Gord Hume, who has long advocated a performance centre. "No, no, no, no, no, no, no! Arts and culture cross every boundary and strata of our society. It's not elitist and we have to get rid of that notion," Hume said.
If that's the only ideological obstacle Hume is up against, he should have an easy time of it — in fact, it will be far easier for him if continues to misrepresent opposition to the performing arts centre in such facile, populist-sounding terms. Taxes are, after all, so democratic… especially if they're someone else's.
Though the city would seek funding partners in Ottawa and Queen's Park and donors locally, Cote suggests, that if the project goes forward, city taxpayers pick up the largest share of the cost -- between $35 million and $40 million plus land costs.

[…] Though Hume is confident private donors will help, he believes the biggest challenge will be to get big bucks from the Ontario and federal governments.

And, just so that you're happy, $2,000 of your creative cities taxes so far this year have bought mayor Anne-Marie DeCicco-Best a photo-op, albeit a coy one, for the fifth annual London Reads event. Londoners should anticipate a noticeable increase in the quality of creativity in this town just about any time now…


mariposa said...

Yep, perfoming arts centre - that's what we NEED in this city! Once again, the wants of a few will probably outweigh the needs of the many.

Anonymous said...

photo op aside, UWO is softening her up for another donation from the 'city' (e.g. taxpayers) a la the un-needed TD Waterhouse stadium (which should be a regular member of your regular litany of wasteful capital projects)....

...and probably also whispering in her ear about that pesky flood-plain issue...

...and lookie, there's Ted Garrard, UWO VP External, in charge of lightening the city's (ummm, taxpayers??) wallet, peeking right over Anne-Marie's shoulder...

Jake said...

The socialists at city hall keep arguing that we need a PAC because other cities like Kitchener and Hamilton have one. Yet both of these cities admit that the attendance at these facilities is low and that there is an annual operating cost of between $1-$1.5 million, not to mention the life cycle maintenance of the facilities over 40 lifespan. So lets tally the costs shall we:

$60 million upfront capital cost that will almost certainly be financed by debt plus $5 million in interest fees over a 20 year payback on a conservative estimate.

If we use the Kitchener/Hamilton example, we will be adding about $1 million per year of perpetual operating deficits from the PAC to the budget. We will use a 40 year lifespan of the PAC.

Finally, the costly repairs that need to be made on such a building over its lifespan such as new roofs, replacing seats/washrooms, general upkeep, etc. of about $10 million over 40 years.

Totals (in million $)
$60+$5+$40(40 yrs x $1 PA)+$10=
$115 million dollars over 40 years!

Imagine how many roads and bridges could be repaired or built with this money? This PAC crap is just bad economics and accounting for not only taxpayers today but for the next generation of taxpayers as well.

I swear, if this city approves this blatant waste of municipal funds, I'm packing my bags and moving to St. Thomas. I sure as hell not gunna pay astronomical taxes as a homeowner to give to a city council that has no respect for the city's taxpayers.

Elaine said...

I am quite sure the thinking people will fight it. We can't afford to waste money on that. I don't think anyone in the city believes they are getting value on the basics for their tax dollar. I can't see this frill project being a go.

eng said...

The socialists at city hall keep arguing that we need a PAC because other cities like Kitchener and Hamilton have one.

Sounds like you already have one. Seems there is no shortage of drama and stand up comedy in the existing venue. It just needs a bit of sprucing up. A nice marquee in front of the city hall should cost at least 10,000 times less. The quantity and level of theatre will stay the same either way.