CLRC News: Council to Decide on Arvada Center Growth


by John Kiljan

Is the Arvada Center growing fast enough as a regional arts institute?  Not according to a majority of representatives from the arts community recently interviewed by a fundraising consultant.  In addition to deciding how rapidly the Arvada Center will grow, what the City Council will soon decide may affect the types of cultural programs being offered by the City at the Arvada Center.  Their decision may also limit Apex’s recreational plans for the Arvada Center grounds and nearby neighborhoods.

At a June 11th Monday night workshop, the Arvada City Council heard a strong pitch to make substantial changes to the Arvada Center’s long-time operational arrangement with the City.  The presentation was made by Pete Kellogg of The Kellogg Organization, Inc, who was contracted by the City to do the study.  Under his recommendation, the City would give up its direct control of the Arvada Center and create a new independent Arvada Center foundation.  The tax-exempt foundation would then be used to manage the Center and decide on its programs.  This would all be done to encourage private philanthropic donations needed to grow the Arvada Center as a regional cultural facility.

Under the plan, the existing Arvada Council for the Arts and Humanities (aka the Arts Council) would cease to exist.  Currently, the Arts Council only has an advisory and promotional role in the running of the Arvada Center.  However, the restructuring proposal outlined also calls for a new and separate public arts or cultural commission to be created.  Moreover, the current Arts Council members seem to support the proposed change.

Since its creation in 1976, the Arvada Center has been run as a City department and is managed by an Executive Director who reports to the Arvada City Manager as an employee.  Under the new proposal, the Arvada Center staff would remain City employees.  However, that staff would be supervised by an Executive Director who would be hired by, and report to, a new foundation board.  Presumably, the foundation board would negotiate salaries and contract renewals with the director and approve the Center’s program content.  A similar governance arrangement (albeit on a much smaller scale) was set up by the City to manage the Arvada Urban Renewal Authority (AURA) as an independent organization.

The Arvada Center’s Executive Director position is now vacant.  Former director Gene Sobczak took over as the CEO of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra late last year.  The vacancy is one reason that the Council was asked to move promptly on the proposal and have the new arts organization in place in the next 90 days.

All of this comes from a three-month study by Mr Kellogg’s fundraising counseling firm which interviewed a diverse cross section of 28 members of the arts community including the City Council members.  During the confidential interviews, interviewees were asked how they thought the Center was doing now and the direction they believed the Arvada Center should take in the future. 

The conclusion that a change in governance was recommended came as no surprise.  From what Mr Kellogg said at the workshop presentation, it appears that the study and interviews were based upon a set of initial assumptions.  Those assumptions said continued growth is a part of the Arvada Center’s mission and that the existing governing structure of the Center is an impediment to philanthropic contributions to the Arvada Center, to its programs and to the ability of the Center to grow as an arts institution. 

He said that 60% of the revenues for the Arvada Center came from ticket sales, class tuitions and the like, 35% from government support and only 5% from philanthropic gifts.  He reported that a more common percentage for philanthropic contributions for similar organizations would range from 30% to 40% of revenues. 

Mr Kellogg said that within five years of implementing a new governance structure the Arvada Center may be able to bring in $2 million to $5 million a year in pledges for ongoing philanthropic contributions from the region around Arvada.  He said a more conservative estimate of what would actually be received would only be $1.5 million to $3.9 million a year.  He also said there was no way to be sure of the real figures until after the governance changes were made and the foundation was able to interview potential new donors.  The Arvada Center currently brings in about $400 thousand a year in donations.  About 60% of its ticket sales come from outside the city limits of the City of Arvada.

Why was establishing an independent foundation needed to bring in the additional contributions?  Simply put, the answer seems to be that the best way to attract more philanthropic contributions is to give the donors a lot more say and control over how their money is spent.  Having the structure of an independent foundation would be the best way to do that for both corporate contributions as well as for contributions from individuals.

No cost estimates were given for implementing the proposal.  Moreover, under the proposal, the City of Arvada would not reduce its annual financial support to the Arvada Center.  Mr Kellogg pointed out that reducing the City’s annual financial contribution would likely be seen by donors as simply substituting their contributions for City funding.  That would be a strong disincentive for potential donors to pledge gifts.  Although the amount varies from year to year, the City has been supporting the Arvada Center with an annual contribution of about $3.5 million to $4 million a year.

Comments from the Arts Council members attending the workshop were universally supportive.  Member Stephanie Tuthill said that she was experienced in estate management in her profession and that it was necessary to give donors control over how their money is spent.  She also said the proposal was totally risk free.  If for some reason the plan did not work, the Arvada Center would be left in the same position that it is in today.  The Center is thought to be financially healthy, but not growing very fast.

Comments from the City Council were largely positive, with Councilor Dyer, who helped design the study’s work plan, saying he was 100% supportive and was “ready to go.”  “Let’s jump into it,” he urged City Council members.  City Manager, Mark Deven, said he was also 100% supportive. 

Other Council members had concerns.

Longtime Councilor Don Allard pointed out that, in years past, there had been conflicts between the City Council, the Center director and the Arts Council on the path that the Arvada Center should follow.  He said it got to the point where, at one time, the Council was considering whether to abolish the Arts Council altogether.  With the City’s ongoing financial contribution, he wondered why it was the proposed foundation board, and not the City, that should be hiring the Center’s Executive Director.

Bob Fifer was concerned that there was not a clear vision of what the Arvada Center should be when it is fully developed.  “Who do we want to be when we grow up?” he asked.  He framed the question in terms of balancing the need for a local community arts center versus a regional arts institute.  He was also concerned about the effects of growth on the plans that Apex is developing for using the Arvada Center site for further recreational development.  He said that development is needed to help meet the recreational needs of the east-side neighborhoods that have long been underserved. 

Shelley Cook said she was also worried about the Center’s land use.  Several times she brought up the issue of growth conflicts with the Apex Park and Recreation District’s plans for developing the land adjacent to the Arvada Center.

The consultant brushed aside those concerns saying he wasn’t convinced there was a mutual-use problem.  The two groups would simply have to coordinate their planning and there was no reason to try to do that in advance of the City deciding to go forward on changing the current governance.  Pete Kellogg said the plan was all about increasing large donations to the Center and its implementation should not be held up by this concern. 

Bob Dyer pointed out that the City has been sitting on the open-space land adjacent to the Center for 36 years and it was time to do something with it for the benefit of the community.  He said he thought recreational facilities could be a part of the Center as well.

Councilor Cook was also concerned that the plan was not well defined in a business sense and that, so far, there was no work plan for the proposed implementation task force which would have a lot to do in a very short period of time.  She also wanted to see the City Attorney participating in the implementation task force to design an appropriate intergovernmental agreement with a new foundation.

Councilor Rachel Zenzinger, who is also a past member of the Center’s Arts Council, started out by questioning the validity of the initial assumptions in the consultant’s study. 

She wanted to see the task force define what was to be meant by “growth.”  Would growth be measured be by attendance?  By revenue?  By programming?  By new facilities?  By community stature?  By reputation?  She said that until that issue was resolved, the City and the Center couldn’t really develop a credible work plan. 

She also wanted to see safeguards included in the change in the event that the proposal and new governance structure didn’t work as hoped.  Disagreeing with Ms Tuthill, she said she did indeed see a risk to the proposal.  The Arvada Center could lose capital if the plan didn’t work out. 

Ms Zenzinger was also worried about staff changes, which she said appeared to be significant in the plan, as well as facilities management and maintenance issues. 

She was concerned that a feasibility study of the proposal had not been done and is not even being planned.  She said it was something that she would have expected for this type of proposal.

Mr Kellogg responded that a feasibility study would not be of much value until after the plan was implemented and the Center was able to talk to potential donors.  In responding to the other issues raised, he said that the implementation task force cannot get tripped up by these kinds of questions before it is decided how the Center will be operated.  He said if the task force tries to do that, the plan will fail. 

Mayor Williams asked City Manager Mark Deven to do an analysis of Apex’s plans to identify elements that might be exclusive or non-compatible with the Arvada Center’s master plan.

Councilor Mark McGoff was not able to attend the workshop.

Monday’s hour-and-a-half presentation and discussion at the City Council workshop was only an executive summary.  A formal proposal is to be made at a special joint dinner meeting between the Arvada City Council and the Arts Council on Tuesday, June 26th.

Printed copies of the 100+ page draft proposal will be available to the City Council before that meeting.  If the City Council gives the plan a nod, a fast-track transition task force will promptly be established to bring back a full yea-or-nay implementation package to the City Council for its approval in September of 2012. 

WHERE TO FIND OUT MORE

This is an event that readers may want to talk to their Council members about directly if they want more information.  Very little information is currently available to the public.  Arvada City Council workshops such as the one held last Monday are intended to be informal information-gathering meetings.  Decisions are not made during Council workshops.  You can ask, but workshop recordings are not normally made available, nor are workshop notes written up for public review.

There is, however, a listing of the assumptions used during the study that can be found in the Council packet for June 11, 2012 workshop.  It’s available on Arvada.org in the current Council packet listings under its ‘Government’ tab. 

Readers can learn more about Denver-based Kellogg Organization and what they do to promote fundraising by visiting their website at

http://www.thekelloggorganization.com/

And readers can learn more about the events leading up to Kellogg’s recommendations by reading this report from EmcArts (EmcArts.org) at this link:

http://www.emcarts.org/site/emc_arts2/assets/pdf/arvadacenter.pdf

It contains the “New Pathways” report for the Arvada Center from last October.

The Arvada Center itself has a website at arvadacenter.org where readers can download past annual reports that show levels of government support and private-sector donations to the Center in an easy-to-understand format.

The Apex Vision 2020 Committee has not yet presented its plans for the Arvada Center or for other facility expansions in the recreation district.  The committee is scheduled to do that at an Apex board meeting being held on the evening of June 21st.  A follow-up 2020 committee presentation to the City Council is planned for sometime in August.

The Citizens for a Livable Ralston Community will post more information online on its website at www.RalstonCommunity.org as we receive it.  You can also friend us on Facebook.  Our name is “Ralston Arvada.”

 John Kiljan, CLRC News: 303-423-9875 or jpkiljan@yahoo.com

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3 Responses to CLRC News: Council to Decide on Arvada Center Growth

  1. Kristine Hanson Farley says:

    I am wondering how many Arvadans are aware of this significant change in the way our city’s “crown jewel” is being managed? I greatly appreciate the information presented in this article. I hope that my accepting the donations of philanthropic organization we are not surrendering the quality of programs at the Arvada Center!
    Thanks for doing all the “leg work”, John!

  2. Pingback: Monday Night Workshop: The Fate of the Arvada Center and Your First Arvada Parking Ticket | Citizens for a Livable Ralston Community

  3. Pingback: City Finalizes Arvada Center Privatization – Comment Period to be Brief | Citizens for a Livable Ralston Community

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