Posts Tagged ‘Mayor Joe Riley’

American College of Building Arts Graduates Seven in Charleston, SC

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

Here’s a headline I didn’t find on the Post and Courier website today. I had to see it in The State – 7 graduate from American College of Building Arts.

Read more here: (http://www.thestate.com/2012/05/05/2264061/7-graduate-from-american-college.html).

I have two questions: How much money did it cost the City of Charleston and the local community to have these seven people graduate? Money that could have gone to other things. And, how many of the seven will end up staying in Charleston – six months to a year from now?

I wish this was a joke, but it’s just another of Mayor Joe Riley’s follies.

Oh – let me throw in a third question: I wonder how many students will graduate from Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, NC, this year? Another of Mayor Joe Riley’s follies.

Big Arts Organizations Are Falling by the Wayside in the Carolinas

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

A few years ago it was the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art(SECCA) in Winston-Salem, NC, that needed the state of North Carolina to come its rescue by taking it over and putting it under the umbrella of the North Carolina Museum of Art, a division of the NC Department of Cultural Resources. At the time SECCA desperately needed repairs but had no funds to accomplish the renovation. It finally reopened on July 15, 2010.

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But how long it stays open depends on them attracting private funding and more people paying admission to get in the door to see the kind of art they will be offering.

Correction: Admission to SECCA is free, but they will still need funding support from areas other than the State of NC to stay healthy.

This spring, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra in Charleston, SC, suspended operations, unable to finish the final event of its season. So far the musicians have refused the latest offer of the Symphony’s management to take another reduction in pay. Efforts are underway by a group of community leaders to reinvent the Symphony, while Charleston Mayor Joe Riley is trying to get the community to swallow a plan to renovate the aging Gaillard Auditorium (performance venue of the CSO) to the tune of $140 million + for the use of the Spoleto Festival USA (for 17 days a year), the questionable Symphony, and other groups who can’t afford the old auditorium fee. The Mayor who usually gets what he wants is meeting some resistance.

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In May, the trustees of the Fayetteville Art Museum in Fayetteville, NC, closed the doors of the museum – in debt, out of money, and with no future in sight. While they were trying to raise money for a new facility they forgot to raise money to operate the current facility. The local arts council cut off a major part of the museum’s funding after discovering some discrepancies in the museum’s financial statements. Community leaders there are trying to put the pieces back together.

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Who will be next?

Was it the economy that brought these organizations down? Was it the reductions in public funding? Was it a lack of public interest? Or was it bad management?

In these three cases it was probably a bit of all four factors and a few more. The economy has taken its toll on all in the arts. Reductions in funding are also a factor all non-profits have had to deal with in the last couple of years, but some arts organizations have failed to realize that as a part of the overall community they can’t just ignore the likes and dislikes of the community in general – of which they say they exist to serve, but are they?

Some art organizations like to think they know what’s best for the community, but never seem to figure out why the community doesn’t support them with funding and paid attendance. Offering programming which is highly acclaimed by art critics, but not by the community is a sign of bad management. That old mantra of “the arts shouldn’t be profitable” has worn thin with taxpayers and business leaders who are feeling the pinch themselves.

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Yes, these arts organizations should expand our horizons, educate, and inspire, but not cram their tastes down the public’s throat – then wonder why no one shows up.

Of course their partners in this attitude are sometimes state arts agencies, like the SC Arts Commission, who also think they know what’s best for the community, by slanting funding toward organizations willing to express the agency’s views over the views of the community.

So angry taxpayers are in a mindset to revolt against those forces who want to tell them where their tax dollars are best spent and they are electing representatives with a like mindset to make reductions in government spending – while the arts and cultural agencies have a bull’s eye on their backs.

Yes, the folks who directly benefit from the funds these agencies dole out are protesting, but is the general public – when other services are also on the chopping block?

In the next few years we’re going to see what’s really important in the public’s eyes – arts and libraries or roads and property tax reductions. It seems we can’t have both any more.

I wonder how many of those folks who were protesting Governor Sanford’s veto cuts to the SC Budget actually took time to vote in recent primaries? Not many is my guess. But if people who love the arts want to turn back this tide of cuts to the arts – they better grab all of their friends and show up to vote this November – or your world, as you know it, will soon disappear.

And, they better get real on how they spend what little money is left and make sure the public sees that the spending is justified and worthy to them – not art critics.

It’s time for the arts to get smart – really smart.

Charleston, SC’s Mayor Joe Riley Is A Big Supporter Of The Visual Arts

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Let me make a correction to that headline. Mayor Joe Riley of Charleston, SC, is a big supporter of the American School of the Building Arts – period.

In a The Post and Courier article offered on the front page of the July 25, 2009, issue it states that the Mayor would like the City of Charleston to lease part of the Trolley Barn facility on Meeting Street in Charleston to the American School of the Building Arts for $1 a year. Sweet!

It was almost a year ago when the Mayor asked the City of Charleston to make a sweet deal loan to the American School of the Building Arts of $734,500 to save the financially troubled college from having to close its doors. Double sweet!

I made a blog entry about that on Aug. 23, 2008 titled, “What Joe Riley Wants – Joe Gets“. It’s good reading to see how the City of Charleston works. I made the blog entry to show artists in Charleston, who had just met several times to see what could be done about providing affordable space for artists in Charleston, how far the Mayor will go to help someone in the arts. He’ll do just about anything for some and nothing for most.

In this July 25, 2009, article we also learn that the City of Charleston Housing Authority also sold the old city jail facility – which used to be used for visual art exhibits to the American School of the Building Arts for $3 total. Triple sweet!

Why so much support for a college that after five years is yet to be accredited and only turned out 7 students in its first graduation? Well, in my post on Aug. 23, 2008, I explained that Pierre Manigault is chairman of the college’s board of trustees – he is also chairman of the board of Evening Post Publishing, parent company of Charleston.net and The Post and Courier. The students being trained at this college will also be working on Charleston’s historic homes – owned by the who’s who of Charleston. If you plan on being Charleston’s Mayor for life – you need these people.

Four days later on July 29, 2009, The Post and Courier offers as their top editorial of the day that the American School of the Building Arts would be good for Charleston and the neighborhood. Surprise! As usual no individual takes credit for the editorial – the paper just list all four possible contributors at the top of the page and for all we know Pierre Manigault could have written the “opinion” and just handed it to one of the four. It also mentions that the college graduated its first class last spring, but forgot to mention that it was only 7 students. What an impact they will make – if they even stay in Charleston.

The last time I posted a piece on the American School of the Building Arts I got an e-mail and call from its founder on how I was betraying the arts community and how hard the college really had it. What kind of supporter to the arts community could I be to attack such tough deals? I don’t know – maybe one who would like to see some parity sometime. If he wants to call again to tell me how rough he has it – please do. I love a good joke.

Of course another factor involved in these deals is that this sweet lease will bring the American School of the Building Arts back into the boundaries of the City of Charleston. The college has had its main facility housed at the old Navy base in North Charleston, SC – something Mayor Riley couldn’t stand.

So let’s review – $700,000+ loan, one facility for $3 total and another for $1 a year lease for part of a building. I wonder how long it will be before the college asks for money from the city to fix these facilities up for proper use? My guess is not long. If not the city – the US government.

What Joe Riley Wants – Joe Gets

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

In an Aug. 19, 2008, Post and Courier article David Slade explains that the Charleston, SC City Council is considering a $734,500 loan to the American College of the Building Arts – requested by Charleston’s Mayor, Joe Riley.

The article doesn’t really tell us why the college needs the money. It doesn’t tell us the full terms of the loan, but it hints that it’s the kind any of us would die for, but it does tell us why the City Council will probably approve the loan.

Mayor Joe Riley wants it done and Pierre Manigault is chairman of the college’s board of trustees – he is also chairman of the board of Evening Post Publishing, parent company of Charleston.net and The Post and Courier.

The article reports that Manigault said the “school’s survival is not in question but the next six months will be a critical time for the institution.” This was not a direct quote. It’s too bad we’re not told what the problem is at the College, other than a lack of funds.

Here’s just another case of it’s not what you do – it’s who you know.

The article paints a picture of an institution that has been given every break in the world and after four years is not accredited, which makes its students unable to get federal loans and other financial aid, operates in the red, lives off private donations and government grants – and to top it off – has only 55 full-time and part-time students. Out of the Class of 2009, 15 students started the program and only 7 will hopefully graduate this Spring. That’s less than a 50 percent retention rate.

I wonder what the staff to student ratio is at this institution?

This loan represents $13,354.54 per student. That’s quite an investment Charleston’s taxpayers will be making in these students and this college. That’s almost paying the tuition for each student for a year (Tuition is $18,372).

The loan will come from the City’s $18.4 million emergency fund.

I wonder if that money will be missed when Charleston has a real emergency – like another hurricane?

The article offers a historical timeline on the College’s finances and accomplishments since forming in 1998 – nine years after Hurricane Hugo did much damage to historical buildings in Charleston and there was a shortage of skilled craftsmen to do repairs.

Overall it seems like a good thing – having an institution which trains the next generation of skilled craftsmen – for Charleston, South Carolina and the Nation. Much like lots of other good ideas which people would like to get funding for, but it just seems like some get all the breaks and we’re asked to overlook problems which in other cases would be a deal breaker.

I hope the College survives and continues to be an asset for the overall community. I just offer this example up to readers to show – it’s not what you do – it’s who you know, and what Mayor Joe Riley wants – he gets. Anyone trying to accomplish something in Charleston better have the support of the Mayor or they are going to have a very hard road to travel. And I mean real support, not lip service. The Mayor gives lots of lip service to causes that just seem to be spinning in place.

And, as far as the Post and Courier goes, we’ve seen this kind of soft-server reporting on other troubled institutions like the SC Aquarium (continual problems), Spoleto Festival USA (past problems), and the Charleston Symphony Orchestra (continual problems). Nothing new there. You offer some facts, conceal others, and present it all with supporting quotes by important people, but never offer an opposing view. They save the real reporting for things which they do not favor.

That’s Charleston.

Newspaper Spin

Monday, May 26th, 2008

I think you used to be able to count on newspapers for objective reporting on events taking place, but then maybe that was just big city newspapers that had competition or just when they were dealing with important national issues. I’m not sure if that was just a myth and the idea of a newspaper just reporting the facts was always an illusion.

These days, when it comes to local newspapers without competition and when it comes to local issues – I don’t know if you can really count on objective reporting or even factual reporting. They all seem to have an agenda and reporters and editors are instructed to tow the company line or are just told to soften things up – for the community’s sake – and advertisers.

When it comes to the SC Aquarium in Charleston, SC, and its financial well-being the Post & Courier in Charleston has decided to take the soft touch in reporting. They seem to be down-right protective at times – hoping readers will be able to read between the lines for the truth, but most won’t get it unless they are hit over the head with the facts.

The headline for an article posted on May 10, 2008, states, “Aquarium posts ’07 loss” and the subtitle is “Rise in admissions was offset by increases in development expenses”. The short story is – by increasing the aquarium’s admission price they were able to bring in more money than last year, but they lost money on bad fundraisers – so 2007 will record a $ 225,886 loss.

The reporter also said that this loss, “sunk the facility’s plans for a third consecutive year in the black.” This would imply that 2007 was just a bump in the road on the way to financial success. But, the “in the black” that he is talking about in 2005 and 2006 was gained by industrial titan board member, the late Jerry Zucker, getting the banks that hold the debt of the aquarium to restructure loans and in some cases write them off completely.

Debt is the name of the game – the aquarium lost $1.22 million in its first year of operation (2000-2001). That’s not bad, in 2003 the aquarium lost $2.3 million. In Aug. 2007, it was reported that the aquarium lost $5.4 million in its first four years of operation and has had its $11.75 million bank loan restructured five times. They currently have a deal with the banks to write-off a dollar of debt for every dollar paid on the debt – through 2010.

So “in the black” for the SC Aquarium means that if you can’t make your loan payments – you just get the bank to write them off and make them go away. How nice that would be for us all. Apparently the banks just can’t write the debt off as fast as the aquarium makes it. The debt write-offs have been as high as $500,000 at a time.

Back in 1984, the City of Charleston commissioned an aquarium feasibility study. After that report was made Charleston’s Mayor Joe Riley told area taxpayers that if they approved this aquarium – it would pay for itself by attracting 750,000 to 1 million visitors a year and become an economic engine for the area around the aquarium. To this date the only year visitors topped the 500,000 mark was during its first year of operation – and many of those numbers are based on free admissions and a special $1 admission weekend.

As far as being an economic magnet – the only commercial development – Fountain Walk – right next to the aquarium has had to close the doors on its I-MAX theatre, opened the year the aquarium opened its doors. I guess they couldn’t find any friendly banks to help them stay profitable. Nothing else has opened up around the aquarium except the Federally funded Fort Sumter Visitor Center and a parking garage. And, if the aquarium keeps raising its admission price to generate more admission revenue – attendance will just keep dropping from year to year – as it has since the day the doors first opened.

Hey – so what’s all this got to do with the arts – or the visual arts for that matter?

Well – in many ways this aquarium has robbed the public of many more worthwhile projects that could have taken place in the Charleston area. Like a major arts facility mentioned in my second installment of this blog. The $64 million plus (more like $70 million) that was wasted on this failed project could have gone towards a waterfront convention center which would have brought in conventions that now go to cities like New York, San Francisco, Atlanta and Baltimore. That convention center would have helped the local art community more than an aquarium has. All those write-offs could be contributions to art groups. A lot of money from the local private and business community that goes into propping up the aquarium every year could be going to the cultural community – which draws more people and visitors to Charleston than a fish tank. These fish tanks can be found in almost every state. South Carolina has a private one, built with private money, which is one of the most visited attractions in SC. And, it’s just 80 miles away in Myrtle Beach, SC.

But, lets come back to 2008 and the newspaper report of another year in the red for the SC Aquarium and how that happened – even with the bank debt write-offs. The newspaper article reported that the aquarium spent 77 percent more on development or fundraising (an additional $248,286) but posted only an additional 21 percent, ($200,228) in contributions. Two projects alone apparently were real duds. One was a plan for the aquarium to give out yearly Environmental Stewardship Awards. The newspaper didn’t say, but it seems the gala awards ceremony cost more than it brought in. And, the other project which lost money was the “Turtles on the Town” project. This was supposed to be like the famous “Cows on Parade” project in Chicago, IL.

“Turtles on the Town” was supposed to be a fundraising project for the aquarium’s Sea Turtle Rescue and Hospital. Here’s the basic idea. The aquarium was hoping to find 50 sponsors who would pay $5,000 each to sponsor a fiberglass sea turtle to be decorated by school children, amateur artists and professional artists. They ended up with 34 sponsors – 8 were funded by groups with taxpayer money (cities, counties and non-profit agencies). So right off the bat they took in $170,000 from sponsors. I’m sure the blank fiberglass turtles cost something and the artists were probably given some money to do their thing. Let’s say we subtract $2,000 each – that leaves ($170,000 – $68,000 = $102,000). The exhibit of the decorated turtles was part of the City of Charleston’s Piccolo Spoleto Festival so I’m sure the City of Charleston picked up the tab on installing the turtles around town. The Post & Courier was probably a media sponsor for the project so there should have been no publicity cost to the aquarium. The P &C did so many articles about the project that even their own reporters were sick of writing about it.

The turtles were later sold at an auction which took in another $104,000. That means the aquarium should have seen somewhere in the amount of $206,000 – more or less. Unless they threw another costly party to go along with the auction spending more than they took in. So the question is – how did something that took in over $200,000 from the public – help the aquarium lose money in 2007? Unless the project cost $250,000 to produce and I can’t think of how that could be. Fundraisers are supposed to make money. And, if this money was to go for a sea turtle rescue program and a hospital – what would that have to do with the aquarium’s general operating fund? I would think that the people who supported this project thought they were doing something extra for the aquarium.

This reminds me of the SCETV Endowment (a group which helps raise money for SC’s public TV and Radio station’s programing). You know, the folks who come on your public radio station, two or three times a year interrupting programing to beg for money to pay for the programing – as if the State of SC just purchased the equipment for people to look at. They say the money is to pay for programs like Car Talk, All Things Considered, and the classical music they play. I’m sure because of the name (ETV Endowment) contributors think they are paying into a real endowment and the station buys the programing from the profits the endowment earns every year, but guess what – there is no endowment fund – it’s just their name. Clever name isn’t it.

So, was the “Turtles on the Town” project really a fundraiser for sea turtles or for the aquarium? It doesn’t matter – somehow they lost money doing it. At least that’s one of the excuses they offered the Post & Courierreporter as to why they were in the red for 2007.

I just can’t get my head around this. The public gives the aquarium $272,000 in sponsorships and auction purchases for “Turtles on the Town” and they lost money. The aquarium tries to give out conservation awards and they lost money. They raise their admission prices so that they can take in more money for doing the same thing they did for a lesser admission cost and they lost money. Banks are writing off a dollar for every dollar they pay towards their debt and they lost money. That’s some kind of organization.

And, at the end of the article the executive director of the aquarium, Kevin Mills makes these two statements in discussing their accomplishments in 2007, “It’s a very good picture altogether. We’re substantially ahead of where we expected to be.” I guess that’s being optimistic – for sure. I guess they expected to be less successful.

Perhaps if they stopped doing fundraisers they would have more money at the end of the year. Maybe if they lowered their admission, more people would go to the aquarium bringing in more money. And, maybe they can find another rich and powerful board member who can “convince” the banks to give them a two-for – reducing their debt $2 for every dollar paid against the debt. But, frankly, I don’t think anything can help this bad idea turn into a good idea.

A past audit report done on the aquarium expressed concerns that the facility is wearing down and their is no money budgeted for upkeep and replacement. Another long term problem they don’t seem to be able to address.

This is all on Mayor Joe Riley’s hands – he alone doubled the size of the aquarium and took several decades to build it so that by the time it was opened – aquariums were not so special anymore. But then again – there’s nothing that Joe can do wrong, according to the good taxpayers of Charleston. But then that’s another installment – at another time.

Here’s an update.

The same reporter offered a business item story on tourism in the Post & Courier on May 12, 2008, about the Georgia Aquarium which is the world’s largest aquarium – built with private funding by the owner of Home Depot. The land was given by Coca Cola – unlike all the public funds that went into the SC Aquarium.

It seems the Georgia Aquarium, opened just a few years now (2005) is already adding on a new facility for a dolphin exhibit. The add on will cost $110 million. The entire SC Aquarium cost about $70 million.

Here’s the kicker, the Georgia facility has sold 7.3 million tickets since they opened – in 4 years – that’s twice as many as the SC Aquarium has sold in 7 1/2 years.

There is no way the SC Aquarium is going to be able to compete in the region for aquarium visitors – even if Charleston is a better place to visit than most other aquarium cities.

It’s just another example of one of Mayor Joe Riley’s “World Class” facilities he has built in Charleston which don’t hold up to close inspection or comparison. It just shows Joe doesn’t get outside of Charleston much to see real “World Class” facilities.

Please – no more fiberglass turtles or anything for that matter.