Here we go, again. Just a month after two projects asked for a total of $825,000 from an organization that receives roughly $500,000 a year, and $460,000 was granted, we have more requests far outstripping their capacity to give. It showed this month as the Central Business Improvement District became a bit more conservative. The money is largely spent and it moved the conversation in a direction it probably should have gone a long time ago. It’s hard to say, “no” to good people and good projects, but that must be done at this point.
So, let’s look at the projects, what they are requesting and the decisions that were made. See if you agree. Remember, this is tax money we are talking about – but not yours, unless you live, own property or operate a business downtown. The tax is on these individuals entirely.
The Knoxville Museum of Art hopes to undertake a project to improve their North Garden, to refurbish the museum’s west entry plaza and to complete interior renovations. This has been prompted by the pending exhibition of Richard Jolley’s 185 foot long, 1 foot high glass and steel sculpture. The estimated cost of the renovations would be around $5,000,000 of which $3,000,000 would be exterior renovations and enhancements. They requested $250,000 to be spread over the next ten years.
The second project involves a dilapidated parking garage on Church Avenue. The Pryor Brown Parking Garage, interestingly, is over one hundred years old, which begs the question then, of what exactly a parking garage was used for over a hundred years ago. Apparently it parked horse-drawn carriages. Later it became home to Yellow Cab Company and most recently it has been a parking garage for cars.
It also has retail space lining at least the Church Street side with more possibly to be added later, perhaps on the Market Street side. The roof has caved in and the owners would fix that, adding around 80 spaces to the downtown inventory. The building would be cleaned and the retail space would be re-vamped. A representative stated that a restaurant was interested in the space. The total cost of the project is estimated to be $1,382,000 and the request is for funding of $300,000.
Finally, the owners of Jackson Terminal, which are the railroad buildings with loading docks that line Jackson Avenue. The rail freight terminal dates to around 1850 and would be restored as much as possible to its original appearance, including a re-build of the boardwalk on the front, making them eligible for historic tax credits. Lighting and other aesthetics would be improved on that stretch of Jackson Avenue and a connection would be made between the 100 block and Gay Street. 20,000 square feet of retail space would become available. The total project cost would be around $1,600,000 with the exterior changes costing around $310,000. They requested $165,000.
So what would you do? Clearly $715,000 is not going to be available for a long time. Spreading it all over the next several years only extends the period of time that no money will be available for other projects. Already some of the other portions of the budget like beautification and events are being robbed for development. Is that smart? Opinions vary.
The development committee recommended no funding for the KMA. Apparently several concerns were expressed such as availability for the expenditures to directly benefit the public, access to donor money and questions such as is this really development? They recommended funding priorities for the other two projects be in favor of the Jackson Avenue project first, with the garage coming second, though they liked both.
After some discussion, a bit of it about as contentious as this group ever gets, the decision was made to invite KMA to present next month and answer questions, though with the possibility looming that beautification money is likely more appropriate than development money, even though the grant would be much smaller.
The parking garage renovation was voted down. The most damning piece of information on that front was that the owners have had possession of the building since 1995 and have allowed it to deteriorate to the point it is now crumbling. CBID did not feel that given they have made money on the project all these years and neglected simple maintenance public money should now be used to cover their expenses.
Finally, the Jackson Avenue project was also postponed for a month. Questions were raised about the fact that 50% of the exterior cost was requested from CBID. Also questioned was whether this qualifies as a catalyst project or whether it should be considered a small grant which has a cap of $25,000. Clarification was also requested about the city’s plans for a greenway “ramp project,” which will cross the same general area. Rick Emmett assured the board the city is working with the owners of the building, but also pointed out that this section of greenway would likely not be completed before 2016.
So, after three requests, no money was committed. That is not to say that some funding won’t be directed, at the very least, to the Jackson Terminal project. Still, it likely will not be the amount requested. In order to come close, more events and beautification projects would have to be cut over the next years.
Finally, to give you an example of the money the group spends on non-development projects, here are some items approved for funding at the same meeting:
Knox Heritage: $4,000 for Walking Tour of Knoxville brochures
Art on the Block: $1,000 for entertainers for their event (requested $5,000)
International Biscuit Festival: $2,000
KUUMBA Festival: More Information Desired ($3,000 requested)
Children’s Festival of Reading: $3,000
Rhythm ‘N Blooms: $5,000 ($10,000 requested)
So, what do you think? What would you fund? How would you change the allotment of money? Remember, the possibility always exists that these buildings will be allowed to fall to the ground if these projects don’t go forward. It’s a tough call.