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BIG ARTS lease discussed at council meeting

By Staff | Jul 26, 2017

A new lease for BIG ARTS was discussed in detail during the City Council’s meeting last week due to the request of a liquor license.

Before BIG ARTS Board of Directors President Ralph Clark began the discussion of a liquor license, he spoke about the proposed lease because they are now operating under Plan B, due to the Civic Core plan not moving forward.

The lease they are currently operating on expires in seven years, but with their new plan the past five and a half, six months, they are proposing a new lease.

Clark said they hired architect Amy Nowacki, as well as brought in some theater and acoustical consultants to work through a feasibility study of what they can do on the Dunlop campus to make it something special for the next 25 to 30 years.

The Dunlop campus, Clark said is shaping up to be a multimillion dollar project.

BIG ARTS has had meetings with Vice Mayor Mick Denham, City Manager Judie Zimomra and City Attorney Ken Cuyler over the past couple of months.

“We started with the old lease and proposed a new one,” Clark said. “The terms are similar to the ones that we discussed over the past five years with the Civic Core planning.”

The proposed lease is for a 30-year term, which is the same that is in place now. The lease also stated that all of the buildings would be owned by the City of Sanibel. “What we are attempting to do in terms of renovating the campus would be all deeded to the city. The city would own all of the buildings,” Clark said. “It is very important to us that the short life equipment be owned by BIG ARTS because we will have to replace it on a two, three, four year cycle, as opposed to a 25-30 year cycle.”

A rather big change from the current to proposed lease is the liability insurance BIG ARTS carries, which is $100,000.

“We are going to up that to $10 (million),” Clark said. “We feel that 10, from what our research is, would be a very significant umbrella.”

The maintenance plan was also discussed for the proposed lease, which included the city being responsible for the exterior maintenance, while BIG ARTS held the responsibility for the interior. Clark said in the past when they have had a significant maintenance problem, the city has taken care of the exterior.

“What you have today, based on our discussion, is a draft lease of what we put together. We have not had the chance to work through that with the city attorney to get it into final form,” Clark said.

Mayor Kevin Ruane asked his fellow council members to simplify the discussion by stating that BIG ARTS needs to sit down with Cuyler to have legal exchanges. Second, he said the lease needs to be quantified to see if there are any budget impacts.

“We did agree that we would try to have a lease in front of council by our Aug. 1 council meeting,” Denham said.

Cuyler said he can do his part of the lease, but in terms of working out issues, language and making sure they are good with it, as well working with the city manager and the finance director, he did not think he could get it before City Council next month.

“What implications might there be if we didn’t adopt this until September,” Ruane asked Clark.

Clark said they hope to be in the position to make a decision at BIG ARTS as to whether they move forward with this renovation plan at their Aug. 10 meeting, which would kick off their capital campaign.

“So we are delaying this sometime for you,” Ruane asked.

Cuyler said he had about 60 to 70 percent of the draft finished. Ruane asked Finance Director Steven Chaipel to put a quick move on this, so it would be placed on the August City Council agenda.

Ruane said if they are having a budget conversation he would be remise if there is an impact that needs to be put into the budget in terms of the maintenance portion of the proposed lease.

“I don’t want to adopt a budget that doesn’t have it in there,” he said. “I don’t see any problems with it, but I would rather make sure we are approving this by understanding the language we are comfortable with. The cost we are comfortable with and the potential risk we are comfortable with.”

Clark began the discussion of requesting a liquor license by sharing that BIG ARTS has been providing complimentary wine and soft drinks with the city’s approval for years.

“We are finding more and more that it is not satisfactory to a lot of people that would like to come to a performance and have a cocktail,” he said.

This last year, BIG ARTS came to the council for a wine and mixed drinks tasting bar as a new offering for their patrons.

“For a number of years it has been clear to us that being able to serve mixed drinks, along with a performance, is very much important to having people want to come,” Clark said of the social experience prior to an event.

That scenario was tested at BIG ARTS with their new idea, the Platinum Club pre-show reception. The reception was offered before every one of their performances last year, which gained extraordinary reception from their patrons. A caterer was used for the Platinum Club receptions.

“There were 68 families that signed up for this deal. The cocktail party was a half hour, 45 minutes prior to the events and was usually held in Phillips Gallery, along with horderves. It was a good social hour,” Clark said, adding that they ended up with new memberships. “We got some very good results out of it.”

He went on to say that having a liquor license is very much the trend for performing arts centers around the country.

“This is the issue that seems to be most important when we talk about this process. How do we make sure if we are serving alcoholic beverages on city property, that we shield the city from any liability,” Clark said. “Ten million (dollars) is quite a nice umbrella and adequate to shielding the city form any kind of event.”

There is a special liquor license for nonprofit performing arts live centers. To qualify, he said they can only serve alcohol at performances

“It gives us capability to have additional revenue. It allows us to control things much better,” Clark said. “Giving it away cost us $12,000 last year.”

Denham shared his issue with their request of a liquor license.

“I personally have some issues with that,” Denham said. “We will have to have a substantial liability protection should that happen. My concern is this is a city property, on city land and it’s a city building. It’s not because I’m against liquor. It’s improper.”

He asked his fellow council members how they felt about the liquor license.

Councilman Jason Maughan said it’s a community event for up class entertainment. He said the human angle is he does not like the idea of people having a drink at home before the event and then driving as fast as they can to the event just so they can sit though two hours of violin.

As far as Maughan was concerned, BIG ARTS serving liquor will reduce drinking and driving.

“The reality is they give away free alcohol now, so whatever liability we exposed ourselves to . . . they are giving it away for free, so there is no way to stop, or at least say you have to pay for it,” he said.

“The idea of selling liquor is very important to us,” Clark said. “It has become more important particularly as we move from people from my age group to boomers. There is much more of an expectation to have a cocktail.”

A few residents spoke before the council about their thoughts concerning BIG ARTS selling liquor.

Claudia Burns said she is concerned that allowing BIG ARTS to sell hard alcohol would set a dangerous precedence for other nonprofit organizations on the island.

“I don’t know of any other group that sells hard liquor,” she said.

Clark said the way the state statue is written, in order to qualify for a license for a performing arts center, they must be a 501c3 and must be a performing arts center with at least 200 seats. In addition there must be a performance taking place at the time of selling the liquor.

“It’s a very specific thing and I think it would be very difficult for other organizations to qualify as a nonprofit performing arts center,” he said.

Burns also said another thing to consider is if BIG ARTS sells hard liquor it puts other businesses in direct competition.

“I’m hoping you will take things like that into consideration when you make your decision,” she said.

Richard Johnson, a board member of the Sanibel Community Association, said they have done similar activities over the years successfully without incident. He believed there was credibility with the BIG ARTS request.

“We would be supportive of this effort by BIG ARTS to secure this license,” Johnson said.

After Sanibel resident Karen Storjohann learned selling liquor would be an annual license, she asked the council to consider allowing BIG ARTS to do it as a trial balloon for year.

“You let them run it for a year, if you say yes to the concept, and then bring it back for reevaluation based on the results,” she said. “I’m not so sure that it is necessary on Sanibel that you sell liquor at everything, but they have a business model in mind. In there brain it hinges on having this liquor license.”