Baldwin City council hears updates on quality-of-life projects
As it starts work on its 2016 capital improvement plan, the Baldwin City Council heard updates Monday on two long-discussed quality-of-life projects, the Mary Swan Theater at the Lumberyard Arts Center and a community center.
Although there was interest enough in both projects to invite representatives of the arts center and Baldwin City Recreation Commission to give presentations on the two possible projects, the council has made no obligations for either project.
Sherry Bowden, Lumberyard Arts Center board president, shared with the council a rough draft of plans Lawrence architect Jay Zimmerschied prepared of the Mary Swan Theater, which is to be the rear half of the building at 718 High St. The rough draft differs from those drawn up for the theater before Phase I renovations to the front half of the former lumberyard started a decade ago, she said.
The rough draft also provided an estimated $1.2 million price tag for the project. The plans now call for the existing back half of the building to be razed and replaced with a new theater. Bowden said that decision stemmed from the opinion of two architects that a May 2012 fire left the back half of the building too unstable for re-use. New construction would also allow the theater to have a sloping floor to the performance area and enough headroom to accommodate tiered seating and overhead lighting and sound systems, she said. The design also calls for the theater’s 175 to 200 seats to be placed on collapsible risers so that the space will be more versatile, she said.
Other features in the draft plans shared Monday were upgrades to the adjacent Spurgeon Park, which Zimmerschied included at the request of the city. Those features, which were estimated to cost $100,000, were a concrete stage and permanent farmers’ market stalls along the lot’s east side.
Three factors made this the right time for the arts center board to move ahead with the theater project, Bowden said Those were the successful renovation of the front half of the building, the board’s paying off all debt owed on that renovation and Baldwin State Bank’s transfer of the deed of the building to the arts center.
The arts center board and the council’s community enhancement sub-committee have had preliminary discussions of a partnership through the creation of a public building commission to finance construction of the theater. That arrangement would have the city guaranteeing a loan at public-sector interest rates, which the arts center board would pay off through revenue the theater generated from shows, concerts and rental revenue from its use as an event venue. Bowden said that was why it was important its design be flexible and include such things as a sound system, overhead projector and screen, which are in-demand features of corporate and organization meetings.
Event centers are in demand with popular sites being booked three years in advance, Bowden said. In a review of market rates, the arts center board found it probably wasn’t charging enough for use of the renovated section and would look to adjust those soon, she said. Venues charge as much as $2,800 rent for a full-day event, she said.
Should the entire $1.2 million theater project be funded through a city-backed bond — a scenario the arts center board hopes to avoid — it is estimated it would the theater would have to raise $10,000 a month to meet its debt obligation, pay operating cost and the salary of a director to manage the theater, Bowden said.
However, that was not what the arts center board was asking of the city, Bowden said. What it was requesting was the city provide $50,000 to $75,000 of the estimated $100,000 it would cost to produce a set of bid-ready architectural plans, she said. With those, the board could apply for grants to help pay for the theater project and reduce the amount of bond debt, she said.
“Bricks-and-mortar grants are hard to find,” Bowden said. “But that (bid-ready plan) is what major grants are looking for. They want to make sure things get done in a reasonable time.”
It also helps if local governments have an interest and stake in the projects, she said.
Councilman Shane Starkey, a member of the council’s community development sub-committee which met last week with the arts center board, said that the arts center’s goal of raising $10,000 a month in revenue was doable if the theater could be rented one day a week.
The arts center board is to develop a business plan to provide a clearer estimate of the theater’s revenue-producing potential, Starkey said.
In comments at the regular council meeting following the work session, council members agreed the theater would aid economic development in the city and enrich the community’s quality of life. While he agreed with those assessments, Councilman Jason Mock cautioned the city would have to help with the theater’s annual debt payment in the early years and would be at risk for all the incurred debt should the theater project be financed through a public building commission. The city’s 1/4-cent quality of life sales tax generates enough annual revenue to meet that obligation, but that wouldn’t leave room for smaller projects such as the flying disc course at the old city lake, the permanent shade structures at the pools and installation of bathrooms in city parks, council members noted.
In his presentation at the invitation of a council member, Baldwin City Parks and Recreation executive director Steve Friend did not have plans to share of a possible community center. Instead, he reviewed what the cities of Eudora, Ottawa, Council Grove and Burlington have built in recent years.
Those range in size for a compact 18,000-square-foot $1.1 million facility in Council Grove with gym, racquet ball court, fitness center and three-lane pool, to the about 45,000-square-foot facilities in Ottawa and Burlington with price tags of $4 million-plus, Friend said.
His recommendation was that any future community center have at least indoor water therapy if not small pools because of the benefits they provided to those with arthritis and other ailments, Friend said.
But Friend said a lot of study would have to be done to determine what features community center should have. The same was true of how it should be paid for, he said, listing the options as a city sales tax, a mill levy increase in the BCBC authority through the Baldwin school district or a combination of the two sources.