Editorial: Sacramento can't short change arts

Published: Saturday, Jul. 13, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 10A
Last Modified: Monday, Jul. 15, 2013 - 7:22 am

In their quest for a sparkling new downtown arena, Sacramento City Council members are striving not to shortchange the city's arts venues. But they're fast finding out it's not going to be easy to scrounge up enough money.

Tuesday, council members are to review a significant piece of the puzzle – the Crocker Art Museum, which is staring at a June 30, 2014, deadline to repay the city a $10 million line of credit used to finish its $122 million expansion, which opened in 2010.

The proposed agreement, backed by museum officials, is one step forward.

The city would forgive $5 million of what it's owed. In return, Crocker would give up all rights to two nearby parking lots now used by patrons and staff, including $210,000 a year or so in parking revenue. The city plans to use that cash for matching grants and loans to arts organizations – until those city-owned spaces are given to the new Kings ownership group, probably next year, as part of the arena deal. The city is hoping to broker an arrangement to allow some museum use of the spaces; otherwise, the city is pledging to find replacement parking.

The city would write off another $2.5 million by matching private donations to Crocker's endowment. Repayments on the remaining $2.5 million would be delayed to between 2018 and 2030.

That money, in turn, would go to build phase two of the Studios for the Performing Arts. In May, the council agreed to kick in another $2.5 million for the first phase of the scaled-down project, planned for a renovated Fremont School instead of a new building on 14th Street. It would include office and rehearsal space for the California Musical Theatre, the Sacramento Ballet and the recently merged Sacramento Opera and Sacramento Philharmonic.

Under new council rules requiring at least 10 days' public notice for agreements topping $1 million, it won't take a final vote on the Crocker deal until July 23.

A more expensive item is waiting in the wings – a major renovation of the 39-year-old Community Center Theater, which is estimated to cost $50 million, including about $33 million tied to meeting federal law on disabled access.

In May, the council set aside $8.5 million toward the project. The city is also looking at other funding sources, including naming rights and private donations. But it needs to find millions more to finance the rest.

City Manager John Shirey is to report back to the council with a detailed plan in September.

The city had expected to use part of its tax on hotel rooms, but that's now committed as a backstop for the city's contribution in the arena deal.

While the new arena could transform downtown, as its boosters never tire of promising, council members need to keep in mind it isn't the only project worth the city's attention and money.

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