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Mayor: 311 W. Main Focus Should Be Arts, Not Building

Lansdale Mayor Andy Szekely disagrees with 311 W. Main recommendation in a letter to the editor

Dear Lansdale Resident:

As Wednesday’s Council meeting approaches, there is a motion on the agenda to recommend the acceptance of the 311 Task Force’s recommendation to move forward with a single phase renovation of the building.

While I support the arts and I am in favor of some sort of venue for the arts in Lansdale, I am writing this letter stating my disagreement with the single phase proposal put forth by the 311 Task Force for the following reasons:

  • The consultant, AMS, hired — for $48,500 — indicated a preference for a conservative, phased approach to rehabilitation of 311 West Main St.
  • Lindsay Schweriner, the most experienced member of the Task Force who works full time in the arts management field, expressed her opinion that a phased approach was also best in that this was the best way to regain the trust of the residents and arts organizations of the Borough.
  • Brian O’Leary, section chief of the Montgomery County Planning Commission, also indicated his position that a phased conservative approach also be adopted. 
  • In the course of their study, AMS surveyed 94 arts organizations in the area of which only 7 responded that they are interested in inhabiting the arts center. How will an architect know how to design a building based on 7 interested parties? And why would we spend up to $3.8 million on a building that does not know who its inhabitants will be or what their needs will be? A facility will have different design considerations for opera, for garage bands, for cabaret, for meeting rooms and for theater to name a few.
  • The conversation continues to focus on the building and NOT the arts which is the proverbial cart pulling the horse.

There is a desire to further rehabilitate 311 West Main Street into an arts center, which is admirable, but I firmly believe—as do the most experienced members of the Task Force INCLUDING THE CONSULTANT — that a PHASED, CONSERVATIVE, ORGANIC, GRASSROOTS approach to rehabilitating 311 West Main Street is the best way to understand the need for an arts venue in Lansdale. As we have seen from the past, committing the money first without a concrete plan is foolish.

Andy Szekely
Mayor of Lansdale

Drew Stockmal October 19, 2012 at 01:11 AM
I think your missing the point Bob. The Task Force did a tremendous job and I agree with everything I heard last night and all I've read. I want the fully constructed center but my wishes do not a sound decision make I will be absolutely stoked when it opens and will support it fully My issue is that I know many of the folks on LBC and they are collectively smart, well intentioned people. But their job is also to be the stewards of our tax dollars. Providing a blank check for any project, when a solid plan is yet to materialize and NO one can provide even an estimate of what the ultimate price tag is going to be, is not sound financial management. As the R's like to say: "Hope is not a strategy."
Drew Stockmal October 19, 2012 at 01:32 AM
csmith: "I would not build half a house.". Using this analogy, would you commit to building a house without any budget whatsoever? Would you ever say: "start building and if it starts to look like it's not going to work out I'll just adjust later.". No. The debate last night was clearly about making the full commitment regardless of cost. If we knew it was just a $4M investment, then I would be OK w/ the ultimate decision. But it may end up being many millions more. Or less; no one can answer that question as of today. And as much as I personally desire this center to happen, I am concerned about what I view as a questionable basis for this decision. What I hate is what the blank check symbolizes which is that public funds are limitless. We see the same attitude with school boards who are able to raise taxes whenever funds get tight.
Denton Burnell October 19, 2012 at 08:38 AM
Drew -- I certainly value your perspective on this. As someone who voted not once, but twice, in favor of this, and someone who is a steward of our tax dollars, I know what's at stake. But I must say, the arguments I heard against "proceeding" on Wednesday, and read here now, assume far too much. By this action, I have not spent $4MM of tax payer money. At best, I have started the ball rolling on doing just what you and most others so earnestly desire: figuring out what it's going to take to actually get 311 open. Obviously, we differ on what "open" means. I do not want a plan that calls for a half-completed community arts center. I want a plan that envisions a complete, and fully-functional venue. But I must emphasize, I need to see a PLAN before I vote to authorize ANY money being spent on renovation. I disagree that my vote last night symbolized a "commitment regardless of cost" or a "blank check." It symbolized a commitment to work toward the goal of a fully-completed center. Even with that goal in mind, I am also committed to the idea of shared responsibility, another key aspect of our recommendation. While the recommendation certainly recognized that the Borough must shoulder a share of the burden, it also called for private support as well, and I will insist on that. When we have a plan, fundraising and financial planning can begin in earnest, and only then can we gauge what the Borough's true financial commitment ought to be.
Drew Stockmal October 19, 2012 at 01:27 PM
DB I appreciate your comments... I admittedly feel much better hearing those assurances and those of my other two reps, MW and DD at the end of the meeting. But you must admit that much of the discussion on Wed centered around the acceptance of ALL Task Force recommendations including full construction. I was under the impression that the vote was to confirm that all steps would be committed to "no matter what it took.". I even recall Timi intimating something similar to that sentiment. As long as you guys are resolved to take this process one step at a time, I can't see how anyone could be in disagreement of that. Let's all hope that it opens and is wildly successful from day one. Thanks.
Denton Burnell October 19, 2012 at 02:13 PM
Thanks Drew -- I did feel as the night wore on that we were tilting at windmills a bit, since my sentiments above are exactly what we've tried to convey. I recognize that there is a difference of opinion on whether we should plan based on a partial vs. complete renovation, but the assurances above remain intact from my perspective.

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