GROW TALLAHASSEE POSITION ON MOST RECENT CITY OF TALLAHASSEE (CoT) COMMUNITY REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY (CRA) MEETING
True growth will not happen if our local governments cannot create a stable environment for it to take place. History has shown, time and time again, that where a government refuses to display consistent decision making, entrepreneurs, businesses, investors, and other economic drivers look elsewhere.
Grow Tallahassee is gravely concerned over a last-second decision by the CRA Board to divert Tourist Development (TDT) Art Funds, earmarked for a publicly-owned performing art Center proposed by TLH Arts, Inc., to two other applicants without proper notice to the public and to the arts community, and with no opportunity for public engagement or due process.
In 2018, nine local groups competed to receive a portion of $3 Million in arts funding that was originally collected as tourism tax dollars for a performing arts facility. This included a lengthy application process, a series of public engagements, detailed project presentations, renderings, estimates, and proformas, and a final review by the sitting County Commission, City Commission and CRA.
Three of these groups were ultimately selected to receive the funding, but two of the groups: TLH Arts, Inc. ($1.8 million) and LeMoyne Arts Center/Gallery ($1 million) have been unable to complete their original proposed projects as-approved during the 2018 process (TLH Arts due to a leasing issue with the state-owned building it was to be housed in, and LeMoyne due to their inability to raise the necessary funding match to complete its project).
Last week, the CRA haphazardly reallocated the $1.8 million that had been previously awarded to TLH Arts, to fund two brand new projects-- $1 million to renovate a City-owned building in Frenchtown, and an additional $800,000 to LeMoyne (also allowing them to keep the original $1 million for the first project, although they failed to achieve their fundraising goals).
The TDT Arts Funds are statutorily required to go through an independent analysis which demonstrates the positive impact of the project on our local economy and tourist-related businesses. Further, the CRA Board is statutorily required to approach each grant request systematically, and analytically, with an emphasis on return on investment and local economic impact—which is how this process was handled in 2018. However, the CRA Board, in a 4-1 vote (with only Mayor Dailey dissenting) disregarded these statutory requirements and awarded grant funding to two applicants without due process, notice or public engagement.
Tourism plays a crucial role in our local economy. We encourage the CRA Board to use public dollars to increase economic activity, create much needed jobs and social equity, — and in this instance, use performing arts center dollars for a project that involves performing arts. In order to achieve this mission, we urge the CRA Board to treat all applicants in TDT Art grant process fairly through a standard procedure, which includes:
1. Proper notice to all applicants of TDT Art grant, with a fair and transparent process engaging the arts community as a whole,
2. If new projects are to be considered (or changes to the original two projects permitted), the public and all applicants should be given notice of the ability to apply or submit changes,
3. Require business plans, cost estimates, project renderings and other important data points for each project equally,
4. Request an Economic Impact Study from the Leon County Office of Economic Vitality,
5. Very closely scrutinize the use of these funds for the purchase of private property for the benefit of private entities,
6. Give ample notice and time to the public to engage on project review and selection.
The CRA should not become a government entity where Board members can allocate funds to favor their political allies. Many of the CRA Board members are sitting commissioners who have publicly and vocally opposed projects which they felt had not received enough public engagement. The same principles should be applied universally. CRA Board decisions must be analytical, fair, and most importantly, must spur economic activity. There must be a consistent process, so that non-profits, businesses, and voters can expect stability from their government.