Friday, February 13, 2015

Saving the art gallery ...

Some days you just go along and everything is fine. Then, one day, someone sends you a note and says, "Hey, you might want to check this out." Lemme tell you. It's a good thing I did.

I went to the City Commission meeting on Tuesday night. I had written my little 3 minute speech. I had a beef, but, I'm working very hard at being diplomatic. It's quite challenging for a big mouth like me, but, I'm getting the hang of it.

I think.

The speech pretty much says it all. It took two minutes and 59 seconds to deliver it to the mayor and four commissioners ...

Tonight you will review a Staff Update on Lanier Parking. Under “unfinished business,” item d.2. on the report, is to “Remodel the Woman’s Club building” to accommodate the parking office. The estimated cost to do this “remodel” is $60,000.

I urge you to consider striking this item from the list. Here are a few reasons why, in no particular order. 

No. 1: I am certain this was NOT what the Woman’s Club had in mind when they deeded the property over to the City in 2011. It has served as a cultural center for nearly 50 years and it is on a path of resurgence to continue to serve as a cultural center, which is evident in the cultural activities that have been held there since July 2012.

No. 2: To remove the kitchen would SEVERLY limit the ability of the Woman’s Club building to serve as a rental facility. Generating revenue is essential to longevity of the building’s use as a cultural space. One of our Big Hairy Audacious Goals is to create a “small,” unique, art-filled space for rentals, including business seminars, art workshops, bridal & baby showers, family reunions and more. Not everyone needs a huge hall that will accommodate 200 people. However, the absence of a kitchen would essentially put the building out of business as a rental.

No. 3: I have been the biggest advocate there is for preservation of the Woman’s Club building since I first identified it as an underused public building, for everything from keeping the jalousie windows to preserving the bead board on the walls. I suspect the Historical Society will support me when I say that to violate the integrity of the building to create an office is a crime against historic preservation. The Woman’s Club was built by none other than Al Hagen, himself, and his wife was the club’s first president. There is historical significance in the building and it would be heartbreaking to see that destroyed to accommodate people paying their parking tickets.

I could go on, but I think you get the drift. 

Of the five options offered for consideration in the report, I was surprised that moving Lanier Parking’s office into the City Hall building wasn’t on that list. City Hall is close to the parking lot, provides ample parking during daytime business hours, the comings and goings of staff and visitors to a parking office would not be disruptive to other activities like they would be for, say, an art gallery, and the fiscal impact could be negligible. The City wouldn’t have to build anything or remodel anything. I don't know everything, but, it seems like a real no brainer to me.  As a taxpayer, it’s my money you’re spending, and I’m all for economically sound choices. Please. Choose wisely. Thank you.

if you build it, they will come
When the 'Public Speaking' part of the meeting closed, I went outside to speak with a friend before heading home. "Unfinished Business" was at the end of the agenda and it was late. We weren't outside two minutes and a man came out and said, "You better get in there. They're talking about your kitchen." My friend and I raced back in and took our seats as one commissioner commented that he was "very opposed to this idea."

One down. Four to go.

The next commissioner said he agreed with the first commissioner. Then, the mayor suggested other ways they might address the issue, which was to reduce parking costs and find a suitable place for the parking office. He was in agreement that the Woman's Club wasn't a suitable place.

Then, our newest commissioner ... well, let me just say I never heard him say he was opposed to using the Woman's Club. He did say he thought it was "important" for the parking office to be close to the parking for the Arts & Entertainment District (with so many bars and restaurants and not yet enough ART). As soon as the city posts the video from the meeting, I want to listen, again, to what he said. I believe this man has an agenda that isn't necessarily in the interest of the tax paying residents.

The last commissioner, the only woman on the panel, agreed that the Woman's Club should be taken off that list. When she spoke, I let out a huge sigh of relief. Four of the five heard my plea.

Now, I don't know if what I said had any influence on their decision. Usually politicians already have their minds made up about agenda items before the meeting even starts. Perhaps they had each decided beforehand that this wasn't a good idea. Regardless, I'm so happy they agreed with me.

And, tonight, Friday, the 13th of February, is the opening of a new show at the gallery with a delightful artist who is also a long time friend. She says she's bringing cupcakes and twinkies.

Hey! I'm ready!

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