News and Features

2 Key Questions About The Arts For Dallas Council Candidates

Bruce Wood Dance Project is an example of the groups that are now using the Arts District.  In June, the company will debut at the City Performance Hall. As planned, cultural activity is concentrating in the Arts District.

Today, is the first day of early voting for Dallas City Council candidates on the May 11 ballot. And this election may be important for arts groups because over the past two years, arts funding has been cut. What’s more, in District 14, seven candidates are vying for election. But KERA’s Jerome Weeks reports, the cultural and political maps of that downtown district have changed.

  • CultureMap‘s Teresa Gubbins takes on an April 22nd, non-arts related forum with the District 14 candidates
  • KERA radio story:
  • Expanded online story:

Dallas violinist-singer-songwriter Daniel Hart — who’s performed with the Polyphonic Spree and St. Vincent — is playing a Patio Session this Thursday evening, one of the free weekly concerts held in Sammons Park, just outside the Winspear Opera House. A few blocks away, UNT’s One O’Clock Lab Band is swinging on “Take the A Train” in the Dallas Museum of Art’s Jazz in the Atrium series. And a block away, yet another free, public concert is cranking up in Klyde Warren Park.

This didn’t use to happen. In fact, the city council election in May is the first since the completion of the AT&T Performing Arts Center, Klyde Warren Park, the City Performance Hall and the Perot Museum. More than a dozen cultural groups are now physical and political neighbors in District 14.

Dallas does have arts facilities outside of downtown – like the Oak Cliff Cultural Center or the Bath House near White Rock Lake. And with the recent re-districting, District 2 is also something of an ‘arts zone,’ circling around downtown as it does from the galleries in the Design District on the west side to the lofts of South Lamar and then over to Deep Ellum’s nightclubs in the east. But as the city planned, the Arts District concentrated many of the city’s leading cultural activities and venues in a single area, specifically to help revitalize downtown. So the city has a significant financial stake in its success.

Chris Heinbaugh is vice president for external affairs at the AT&T Performing Arts Center. He says that Angela Hunt — who is not running for re-election in District 14 because of term limits — was a long-time and highly knowledgeable supporter of the arts on the City Council. This election will see whether her successor will continue to be a ‘cultural representative’ at City Hall.

Candidates for Dallas City Council District 14 are seated, appropriately enough, on the set of the Dallas Theater Center production of The Odd Couple. L to r: Bobby Abtahi, David Blewett, Kevin Curley, Philip Kingston, Chuck Kobdish, Judy Liimatainen and Jim Rogers.

What’s more, Heinbaugh argues, the Arts District should be a concern for the whole council:  “The district has become a driving force in tourism, in economic development. And so we want to make sure all our council have a strong understanding of that and a commitment to keeping that going.”

By commitment, Heinbaugh means funding. In 2010 and 2011, the city was forced to cut back severely on its support of all its cultural facilities around town – including the Performing Arts Center.  

Ever since, arts groups have been looking for more reliable funding. One suggestion is a public improvement district or PID. These levy a small, additional tax on property owners in an area to help maintain and improve such things as lighting or landscaping. District 14 candidate Bobby Abtahi spoke in support of such an approach at a recent public forum, saying, “We need to look at adjacent commercial property owners and see how we can work either in some sort of tax increment deal or some sort of public-private partnership because everything around us is benefiting from the Arts District.”

Chris Heinbaugh, who moderated the panel, asked if he thought voters would approve such a PID.

“Like everything else,” Abtahi replied, “you’ve gotta sell it right.”

But what complicates the matter is that there already are public improvement districts in the area. Catherine Cuellar is the new executive director of Dallas Arts District. It’s a part of Downtown Dallas, Inc, which is a PID that’s worked to upgrade safety and sidewalks. Cuellar notes that “Downtown Dallas Inc., Uptown, Arts District, Office of Cultural Affairs – all have different sources of public funding as well as private funding. And hopefully, those groups are being strategic so that they’re not competing for dollars.”   

Yet last month, Klyde Warren Park chairman Jody Grant did just that — he started competing for public dollars. Grant proposed a tax assessment district – but only for Klyde Warren Park. His announcement caught the Arts District groups by surprise. Despite their opposition, Grant went ahead and filed the paperwork with the city.

But among the seven city council candidates in District 14, asking for even a small increase in taxes is where support for cultural groups breaks down. In a recent public forum, all seven candidates expressed strong personal support for the arts. They recalled their own cultural experiences; they extolled what the arts can do for a city. When it came to taxes, though, some candidates, like Chuck Kobdish, took a step back.

“I am not a fan of any sort of increase in taxes or fees,” he said. “If we are certain that there’s nothing else left to do then we can take a look at some of these other means of steady funding.”

Only one idea received universal backing: A third of all visitors to downtown Dallas cite arts events as a reason for their visit. In that case, the candidates agreed, the city needs to do a better job promoting its cultural attractions.

VOTE 2013:  HOW DALLAS COUNCIL CANDIDATES WILL VOTE ON THE ARTS

Arts groups in Dallas have held several forums to find out what city council candidates would do to support the arts.  KERA also wanted to know, so we asked those competing in contested races. Here’s what they told us.

 

DISTRICT 2 Candidates

Vernon Franko

  • Age:  48
  • Insurance Agent
  • Previously ran for Dallas City Council

Ricky Gonzales

Adam Medrano

  • Age:  37
  • Former Dallas Parks & Recreation Supervisor
  • Elected DISD School Board Trustee, May 2006-Present
  • www.adammedrano.com

Herschel Weisfeld

 

Arts Question #1:  What is your plan for a reliable source of arts funding that is outside the city’s general budget?

Franko:  Seriously, when did the City council become responsible for raising arts funding outside of budget?

Gonzales:  Private sector money is always good. Pay as you go is always cheapest. Bonds are the next best thing but should not be abused.

Medrano:  We seriously need to consider non-resident fees.

Weisfeld:  I would consider a small fee that could be added to every municipal ticket, citation, and city service bill as well as a surcharge for all tickets sold to events at city owned venues.  In addition, I would cultivate our benefactor/philanthropic community, develop expanded public/private/corporate partnerships from a Business Committee for the Arts perspective and evaluate the economic viability of a full time grant writer in order to find funding sources world-wide.

 

Arts Question #2:   What is your position on the PID (public improvement district) tax that’s currently being discussed by the Klyde Warren Park board and the stakeholders in the Arts District? It would levy a small tax on downtown businesses in order to help maintain the park and possibly the district.

Franko:  I guess it’s a good idea if your plan is to run individuals and businesses out of downtown. We have been working very hard to get people and businesses back into downtown.  Levying a special tax on DT business will only discourage further development.

Gonzales:  I think it is a ridiculous position for the city to take. Why build anything that would cause a tax hike.  It is the money generated from the area that provided an opportunity of relaxation.  To share the thought of “responsible use” alone would go a long way.

Medrano:  I need more information on this issue.

Weisfeld:  I believe that if a PID was created, it should be designed to benefit the entire area and distributed fairly and equally amongst all of the players without favoring any one organization or entity considering the fact that The Arts District was the impetus for the KWP and the reality that the Perot is now one of the biggest draws in this area.

 

DISTRICT 3 Candidates          

Michael Connally

Vonciel Jones Hill

  • Age:  64
  • Attorney, Minister
  • Elected Dallas City Council, June 2007 – Present

Claudia Meyer

  • Age:  71
  • Retired Assisted Living Facility Director and Medical Social Worker
  • www.meyer4dallas.com

Kermit Mitchell

Arts Question #1:  What is your plan for a reliable source of arts funding that is outside the city’s general budget?

Connally:  Did not respond

Jones Hill:  The most reliable source of arts funding is the general budget.  However, outside of that source, the best possibility is private funding.

Meyer:  A budget based on funding supported by patrons of the arts could be augmented by a plan that involves a network of multiple traditional and non-traditional sources.  Performances in non-traditional venues have a freshness and a value for a wider audience.

Mitchell:   The new tax revenues from gas drilling would be partially used to fund the arts.  The Federal and State budgets are pressed for other priorities such that those sources are not reliable.

 

Arts Question #2:   What is your position on the PID (public improvement district) tax that’s currently being discussed by the Klyde Warren Park board and the stakeholders in the Arts District? It would levy a small tax on downtown businesses in order to help maintain the park and possibly the district.

Connally:  The PID must be supported by those who would be paying for it.

Jones Hill:  The Klyde Warren PID idea needs more discussion among all of the groups in the District so that they will approach any additional tax on a unified -and shared- basis.

Meyer:  I would not support this. When this park was initially proposed, its backers assured all Dallas residents that it would be off the city budget.  Its website, even today, claims it is entirely funded from private sources.  These entities should honor their commitments—taxpayers have already spent significant bond money on this project.  That said, the park itself is a great addition to downtown and helps make Dallas a more livable city.

Mitchell:   The arrow is already in the air.  The bullet has already been fired.  There is no turning back.  The park has been built with significant resources from across the board.  The focus was on building the park.  Surprising it is that there was no requirement to discuss operations and maintenance of the park.  It shows that the well-heeled are not always wise.  The PID is a currently essential revenue source.  There is no present alternative.  The PID funding must be continued at least as long as the projected revenue from the 7-9% surcharge to the restaurant can carry the freight.  I feel the pain of the objecting taxed neighbors that 99% of the people who use the park are not residents in the area.  On the other hand, the park is a neighborhood asset that serves to increase the property values and business revenues of all entities that surround it.  Therefore those benefits well support the current call for contributions from those who reap the long term gain.

 

DISTRICT 5 Candidates

Rick Callahan did not respond.

Jesse Diaz

Bruce E. Shaw

Yolanda Faye Williams

Arts Question #1:  What is your plan for a reliable source of arts funding that is outside the city’s general budget?

Diaz:  The City of Dallas has an incredible source of leverage.  As a City official, I will utilize that leverage to cultivate relations with the private sector and local, state and national foundations promoting the arts.  More so we must strengthen the role of the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs and the Cultural Affairs Commission.

Shaw:  There are several avenues that can be used to attain the additional funding that we are missing for the fine arts. One idea would be to hold events for funding and supporting the arts; as well as seeking direct donations from art enthusiast.

Williams:  I would seek the private sector to assist with funding.


Arts Question #2:   What is your position on the PID (public improvement district) tax that’s currently being discussed by the Klyde Warren Park board and the stakeholders in the Arts District? It would levy a small tax on downtown businesses in order to help maintain the park and possibly the district.

Diaz:  As an elected official, I will be willing to listen to all sides of every issue and will maintain an open door policy

Shaw:  I believe PID’s can be very useful in some communities that lack Home Owner Associations to help maintain the community.  I think when those who might oppose realize the benefit it will be appreciated.

Williams:  I support the small tax levy on the downtown businesses as well as the businesses in the other district.  I strongly, feel that the businesses surrounding (PID) should share the responsibility.  City of Dallas should work to bring balance between both the Northern and Southern Sector.

 

DISTRICT 6 Candidates

Monica Alonzo

  • Age:  48
  • Dallas City Councilmember, Community Volunteer
  • Elected Dallas City Council, May 2011 – present
  • www.monicaalonzo.com

Ozumba Lnuk-X  Did not respond

Sixto Raymond Salinas  Did not respond

 

Arts Question #1:  What is your plan for a reliable source of arts funding that is outside the city’s general budget?

Alonzo:  First of all, as a supporter and advocate of the Arts, I believe the City of Dallas should continue its funding of the cultural arts in the city.  Working with the Arts community, I have pledged my support and advocacy in better promotion opportunities for the Arts and to come together for the purpose of developing positive, creative suggestions regarding increased funding, including outside the city’s general fund.

 

Arts Question #2:   What is your position on the PID (public improvement district) tax that’s currently being discussed by the Klyde Warren Park board and the stakeholders in the Arts District? It would levy a small tax on downtown businesses in order to help maintain the park and possibly the district.

Alonzo:   I support communities of interest such as the Stakeholders in the Arts District or a defined neighborhood community in coming together for the creation of a PID for the purpose of improvement of quality of life.

 

DISTRICT 7 Candidates

Carolyn Davis did not respond.

Ona Marie Hendricks

 

Arts Question #1:  What is your plan for a reliable source of arts funding that is outside the city’s general budget?

Hendricks:  To advocate awareness in a productive and proactive manner is a daily habit for me, both personally and publicly.  I get calls last minute or on the spot to provide support for different causes both big and small.  The only efforts needed to gain reliable sources for the arts funding will be consistent networking throughout the community as a whole.

 

Arts Question #2:   What is your position on the PID (public improvement district) tax that’s currently being discussed by the Klyde Warren Park board and the stakeholders in the Arts District? It would levy a small tax on downtown businesses in order to help maintain the park and possibly the district.

Hendricks:  Of course there are a number of advantages for the benefit of Klyde Warren Park however;  proper protocol should be followed and view points of the businesses involved should be heard along with any others whom could be impacted negatively once plans have moved forward.

 

DISTRICT 8 Candidates

Tennell Atkins  Did not respond

Subrina Lynn Brenham  Did not respond

 

DISTRICT 11 Candidates

Lee Kleinman

Ori Raphael

 

Arts Question #1:  What is your plan for a reliable source of arts funding that is outside the city’s general budget?

Kleinman:  I plan to work with the citizens of Dallas and the private sector to fund this important aspect of our culture.  When properly managed, public-private partnerships can make for vibrant and successful venues.  In the Parks Department we successfully privatized the Zoo, and the Arboretum has been privatized for years.

Raphael:  I believe in private funding of the arts.

 

Arts Question #2:   What is your position on the PID (public improvement district) tax that’s currently being discussed by the Klyde Warren Park board and the stakeholders in the Arts District? It would levy a small tax on downtown businesses in order to help maintain the park and possibly the district.

Kleinman:  A collaborative PID between the Arts District and the Klyde Warren Park would be a good way to help fund maintenance operations in this area of downtown.  A PID allows property owners in the designated area to self-tax to improve that specified area.  If the owners agree to tax themselves to benefit the users of public space, I am in favor.

Raphael:  That is up to the property owners of the PID area.

 

DISTRICT 13 Candidates

Leland Burk

Jacob P. King did not respond.

Jennifer Staubach Gates

Richard P. Sheridan

  • Age:  66
  • Retired civil and environmental engineer
  • Previously ran for Dallas City Council in 2011 and as a write-in candidate for Dallas City Council (2005) and Mayor (2007)

 

Arts Question #1:  What is your plan for a reliable source of arts funding that is outside the city’s general budget?

Burk:  As a strong supporter of the arts, I understand the major challenges of arts funding.  I am proud to have many leaders in the arts community supporting me including Cindy & Howard Rachofsky, Marguerite Hoffman, Deedie Rose, Veletta Lill, Dolores Barzune and many others.  I fully understand the arts mean business and jobs and that a strong arts community is a draw for new companies to locate here.  I certainly believe we should explore the funding options cities and states across the country are using and will work with our arts community and others to find a stable source of funding.

Sheridan:  The reliable source for the arts has been Dallas residents and wealthy benefactors.  If we continue to properly promote the arts, the support will continue.

Staubach Gates:  Our Arts District is a regional, national and global draw, and we must not only ensure that it is well maintained, but also look for ways to further enhance this asset and create an even stronger economic driver. Our Arts District has thrived due to major private donations, so I would support raising private dollars for an endowment to support ongoing maintenance and enhancements of this asset.

 

Arts Question #2:   What is your position on the PID (public improvement district) tax that’s currently being discussed by the Klyde Warren Park board and the stakeholders in the Arts District? It would levy a small tax on downtown businesses in order to help maintain the park and possibly the district.

Burk:  That is entirely up to the property owners in the PID area.  The property owners petition the council.  I would defer to the councilperson representing the district the PID is in.

Sheridan:  I’m not opposed to it.  I m opposed to the bait and switch tactics that
we’ve seen. First, we hear that the maintenance will be taken care of, then we hear they have their hands out for funds.

Staubach Gates:  This PID has not been able to secure the support it needs among the stakeholders, so at this point I would not be supportive.

 

DISTRICT 14 Candidates

Bobby Abtahi

David Blewett

Kevin M. Curley II

Philip Kingston

Chuck Kobdish

Judy Liimatainen

Jim Rogers

 

Arts Question #1:  What is your plan for a reliable source of arts funding that is outside the city’s general budget?

Abtahi:  We must find a reliable source for arts funding. I will explore new sources of funding such as the (TPID) tourism public improvement district and examine what other cities have done to address their arts funding.   Houston appears to have a larger pool of funding as they are leveraging a variety of sources, including a small portion of the hotel/motel tax.  Private organizations such as TACA have been successful in building funding sources for performing arts groups.  Can that model be expanded?  Once we collectively determine the best practices for funding, we can then work towards implementation with stakeholders.

Blewett:  My plan for Arts Funding hinges on their ability to grow their revenue. The city of Dallas should help promote arts tourism for all of our art venues and highlight the entertainment options that we offer.

Curley:  I disagree with the question. There is no such thing as a reliable source of revenue.  If the Arts community wants dedicated source of revenue then my idea would be to take a portion of the hotel occupancy tax.  A driver behind this idea is that the arts district is responsible for a portion of that revenue.  The general fund is a more reliable source of revenue as the HOT is very unpredictable.

KingstonContinuation of the public art requirement for new development, but the more important aspect of Arts funding is finding a source of funding that is both reliable and within the city’s general budget.  I support an open and transparent process, probably managed by a strengthened Cultural Affairs Commission, by which Arts groups have a fair shot at city funding.  A portion of the hotel/motel tax might be a good source of revenue.

Kobdish:  The Arts District has been very successful with leading the initiative in public/private partnerships. I feel like the City needs to make good on the allocated funds we have set aside for the Arts and continue to fund the Arts in a responsible way.

Liimatainen:  The city of Houston uses their hotel tax for funding their arts program.  It can still fluctuate, but it is much more reliable than the arts district waiting to see how the city’s budget is.  The problem with this solution for Dallas is that the convention center presently uses all of those dollars, but as the convention center is fully booked, perhaps the monies could be split.

Rogers:  The contribution of the arts community to our city cannot be measured in dollars and cents but the Deloitte study shows that the arts have a positive economic impact to the area in excess of $1B.  Allocating some portion of the Hotel Occupancy Tax to support the arts makes logical sense.

 

Arts Question #2:  What is your position on the PID (public improvement district) tax that’s currently being discussed by the Klyde Warren Park board and the stakeholders in the Arts District? It would levy a small tax on downtown businesses in order to help maintain the park and possibly the district.

Abtahi:  PIDs have proven to be a successful economic development pool in enhancing services in neighborhoods.  The Dallas City Council ensures that there is consensus for the plan and it meets the standards for adoption.  This particular application appears to have caught some of the neighbors/stakeholders off guard.  At this time, I believe we should take a step back and communicate amongst the stakeholders to define a consensus plan the larger neighborhood. The Arts District is a neighborhood just like any other and we must take an inclusive approach to solving their unique issues.

Blewett:  I am against the PID for Klyde Warren Park and Arts District.  It is another tax and a poor substitute for efficient management and revenue growth/usage fees.

Curley:  I believe the park is a great addition to the city.  However, this plan is unpopular.  The Uptown PID and Downtown improvement district surround the park area. Therefore it is unlikely another PID overlapping will gain the needed support.

KingstonIf Mr. Grant is successful in selling it to the land owners, then I think it could be a reliable source of funding for operations and maintenance at the Klyde.  The controversy arises from 2 sources:  1) the representation that KWP operations and maintenance would not require tax dollars, and 2) insufficient consensus building within the Arts District.  Neither of these is an insurmountable barrier.

Kobdish:  This is a question for the business owners, and they have said no. Question should have been raised before they built the park.  PIDs are a good way to finance Improvements, but we can’t force a tax on these business owners.

Liimatainen:  In our Private/Public partnerships, the council must proceed cautiously to make sure that the city has the funds to sustain these wonderful projects.  I do not think that the stakeholders in the Arts District should now become responsible for the park that came after they were established entities.  I don’t think they should be punished for being there already.

RogersAs I said previously, I am opposed to raising taxes.  That a tax is needed to maintain this park that just opened indicates either poor financial planning or a lack of transparency, or both.  We, the taxpayers (city and county), keep being surprised by new revelations about various projects.  That is one of the reasons I am running for city council.  We need the perspective of a C.P.A. like me to raise questions about these projects and the resulting expenditures in the planning stage and demand transparency from inception, not at or after completion.  If the adjacent property owners are willing to tax themselves to support the park, that is their choice but the city should not in any way impose such a tax.  While the question refers to it as a “small” tax, the initial rate would be $250 per $1M, but after seven years it could escalate to $1,500 per $1M.  That is a six-fold escalation.  That is no longer a “small” tax.  If the area property owners are inclined to willingly establish a PID to, in some way, benefit all the public spaces and facilities within the area which probably do benefit them and their property values, that would be a gracious and generous gift to the City of Dallas and its citizens but I, as a council member, will not be involved in imposing such a tax on unwilling participants.