Letter to the Editor | PCA’s ‘sweetheart’ lease deal deserves scrutiny

When I attended the November City Council Meeting where the upcoming lease renewal for the Piedmont Center of the Performing Arts was discussed, I was dismayed with what occurred.

After dozens of community members spoke about both sides of the issue, two council members began to ask questions to gain a better understanding of the topic. But former Mayor Bob McBain cut them off and motioned to approve the first reading, the other two council members agreed and that was it. It was demoralizing at best.

I simply do not understand how this sweetheart deal for a private nonprofit organization can continue without any accountability or transparency.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not want to turn the city owned-building at 801 Magnolia into an office, rec center or any other kind of facility (although those may be reasonable choices if focusing solely on revenue.) I love that there is a space for artists, performances, concerts, exhibits and more. I want more of that and I want more people in the community to have access to it. But getting into another long term, essentially free, lease with PCA means more of the same — limited programming, hours/days of unused space, questionable decisions about who can use it, lack of accountability, reduced revenue for the city and a lack of diversity.

While this group pays essentially no rent, they charge individuals and groups to use the space, giving none of that money back to the city or other community-based arts organizations. In fact, the Piedmont Arts Fund had to pay to rent space there, as did the high school when the acting class needed a place to do their plays. Let me say that again: A private, nonprofit paying no rent charged another nonprofit arts group and the local high school to use the space. That is just crazy.

Yes, PCA has spent thousands of dollars on improvements and repairs over the last ten years.  But they have also not paid thousands of dollars in rent in that same time. If the City had been charging market rates for rent, those repairs could still have been done and the space would be more fully used as there would have been a more urgent need to book the space to earn revenue to pay rent.

There has been no public discussions of this issue, no call for input from the community and no transparency in the decisions being made. With a city so in need of funds to run other programs, fix old buildings and infrastructure, why, oh why are we giving this space away for free?  Can we just pause for a moment to solicit input, weigh alternatives and restructure the lease to at least add some accountability and transparency?  That does not seem so much to ask.

Rachel Long
Proud mom of three PHS students
Passionate arts lover
Nonprofit and operations executive
Current theater consultant

3 thoughts on “Letter to the Editor | PCA’s ‘sweetheart’ lease deal deserves scrutiny

  1. While the matter of Reach Codes might best have gone before the Planning Commission before the 1st reading, the City noted the divided nature in town concerning Reach codes and created a lengthy delay between the 1st and 2nd readings which allowed a Town Hall and FM3 survey so that more input could be gathered for an informed Council decision. I suggest that the 2nd reading for the proposed Art Center lease be postponed and the same Town Hall and survey type input be provided to Council. Remanding this to the Recreation Commission is a viable option. Whether 801 Magnolia remains in private hands for $1 or becomes a broadly available community asset is a question many are struggling with. Use the same comprehensive process for 801 Magnolia as was used for Reach Codes.

    In contrast the City created a single outcome mandate with no public input before the 1st Art Center Lease reading and behind the scenes Mayor McBain assuring the Art Center President that a majority of Council votes was in hand. That single narrow path circumvents an honest community conversation and eliminates an informed decision by Council.

  2. Rachel’s proposal is straight forward good governance and she shouldn’t have to ask. But to solicit input and weigh alternatives takes a public process you can’t have at a second reading. The City needs to withdraw the lease and commence public outreach. Contrast the current process with the Reach codes that passed 5-0 at Council last night. That ordinance was developed through extensive w0rkshops, surveys, FAQs, and was improved through public dialogue. Why can’t the same be done for 801?

  3. It does seem like an objective consideration of options and improved access and transparency should be explored to optimize the utilization of one of our few public facilities.

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