Performing Arts Task Force updates city council Tuesday

August 25, 2008

Task force hopes to create a place where ‘community can happen’

By Ryan Gueningsman
Managing Editor

A little more than a year ago, Gary Janisch of Delano approached the city council with plans to redevelop the former Delano City Hall/library building at the corner of Bridge Avenue and Second Street North that currently houses the Delano-Franklin Heritage Center.

At a special work session Tuesday night, members of the Delano City Council met with members of the Performing Arts Task Force that was created to study the plan.

In a memo written by Delano City Administrator Phil Kern and Assistant to the City Administrator Luke Fischer to the city council and mayor, the council heard the following updates on the task force’s activities.

The task force took into thought how the building may redevelop, keeping in mind the existing use of the building as a heritage center, as well as possibly expanding it into a cultural center of the community.

The city had a structural analysis of the building done, which found the structure, built in 1881, is sound, but would need work to be usable in the future.

The task force, comprised of a number of local residents, met for the first time June 2 and began discussing potential uses of the space that would allow more residents to utilize the space. A list of more than 20 potential uses was devised by the group for the facility (see sidebar).

One of the main challenges the task force hit early in its meetings was to determine exactly what it was working toward. Initially, each group member had a slightly different version of their direction.

After reviewing different uses, task force members felt the community would be better served by having the facility be as inclusive as possible. Because of this, the task force tried less to develop a theatre space, and focused more on the creation of a cultural center.

Answering several big questions

After deciding to focus on the establishment of a cultural center, the task force created a temporary mission statement, which reads, “The Delano Cultural Center is dedicated to providing quality, affordable, artistic, educational, and recreational opportunities to all who wish to participate.

“We wish to provide a space for art and history to live, a space to entertain, enliven, educate and enhance our community and surrounding areas. We believe in providing a space where community can happen.”

With this mission statement in mind, the task force set out to answer four main questions: what are the capital needs and how are they funded, and also what are the operational needs and how are they funded.

To answer the capital question, the task force used an architect’s rendering created by Janisch of how the space may redevelop. Information was obtained from various community groups and area theatre guilds about the amount of space that may be needed for various uses.

After reviewing this information, the task force members split the building into two areas – a community meeting space with classrooms for the lower level, and theatre space with removable seating for the upper level.

The lower level would include a remodeled bathroom, a food preparation area, and opening of the walls. This would allow the lower level to include multi-use space that can potentially be used by a larger portion of the community.

The upper level would include the removable seating in order to allow space to be configured to specific needs. The task force plans a theatre setting in the upper level, and also has revised plans to include a larger elevator, improved audio system, and other theatre components.

In order to fund the project, and “do it right,” the task force feels capital work needs to be well-planned and done in one phase. Estimated cost projections from Janisch for the project are around $800,000.

The task force took this number and split it into two categories – essential building repair, and maintenance and theatre-related upgrades. Essential building upgrades came in at about $500,000, and included items such as the roof, fire suppression system, and elevator.

The other $300,000 in funds was associated with the theatre spaces, including things like an audio system, curtains, and stage.

The task force saw things of this nature as the responsibility of an arts board, non-profit, or separate entity to raise. Janisch has said he has $170,000 in pledged donations that would apply to the $300,000 needed.

The task force is confident it will be able to make up the additional $130,000 through a fundraising campaign.

It was noted the city has not planned or budgeted the estimated $500,000 cited for building improvements. Several funding options were presented, including utilizing capital improvement bonds, pursuing a referendum and taxpayer approval to increase taxes to pay for the building renovation, or also seek as much grant funding as possible.

In the report, it noted grant funding takes a longer period of time, but that city staff feels a significant portion of the long-term building improvements could be obtained through grant funds.

Just how does a cultural center operate?

Members of the task force gathered information from other similar centers in the area. City staff met with and toured cultural-type centers in Hopkins and Dassel-Cokato to get a better understanding of operational models.

While both models have been discussed at length, a model for Delano has not yet been decided upon. Because of this, it is hard to accurately project any sort of operation costs. There is also a distinction between actual operational costs of the building maintenance, and also with building programming and entertainment.

The city currently spends about $11,000 each year on minimally maintaining the space. This number would likely increase if the space were rehabilitated, and is estimated at about $32,000 annually. It was noted there would be an increased use of electricity, as well as more cleaning and repair costs.

Until an exact operational model is determined, programming and entertainment costs cannot be estimated.

Where to go from here

At the special work session Tuesday, the council heard all of the progress made to date by the task force, and also heard Janisch has told the task force that if the council doesn’t approve a plan to proceed, his involvement will likely end, and he will withdraw his money from the project.

It was noted city staff has applied for grant funding for a fire suppression system and roof for the building, and that if any construction were to begin on either of these items before grant funds are secured, the city’s grant application would be voided.

Members of the city staff also feel the project would have a significant impact on the downtown area. The council is at a point where it is considering what level of public funds should be utilized for such a project, including ways to fund the building updates.

At the work session, the recently-completed audit was brought up, and it was noted the city has a capital fund balance in excess of $500,000, so on paper, financing such a project is possible.

There are concerns, however, about the continued construction slowdown and impact on the city’s budget. Repayment of utility debt and general fund activities both dependent upon building permits is also a concern, meaning it is likely the city will operate at a deficit in upcoming years.

Questions about the operational model and budget still remain, with city staff continuing to research and plan for the project.

At the meeting Tuesday, the council did not take any action on the item, choosing to consume the information and revisit it in the future.

Potential building uses devised by task force

• Plays

• Classes

• Lecture series

• Annual meetings

• Art displays

• Concerts

• Receptions

• Traveling theatres

• Debates

• Information series

• Quilt shows

• Old time movies

• Historical society

• Exhibitions

• Seminars

• Church services

• Workshops

• Community Education

• Art classes

• Community group meeting space

• Piano recitals

• Dances

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