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Chicago Park District Power Grab Comes to Beverly

Pat Hickey 31 August 2012 2 Comments

The Southtown Star reports today that The Beverly Art Center(BAC) directors fired the manger who filled the seats of the theatre, added programs in two-dimensional and literary arts and managed to pay vendors and much of the original debt which caused its pioneering President to resign in anger, in order make this community center an arm of the Chicago Park District. This is really a sad and shabby tale of the south side.

The arts center has been a staple in the community for more than 40 years, the last 10 at a 40,000-square-foot facility at 2407 W. 111th St. It bills itself as a “multicultural center that offers fine arts education, programming and entertainment for all ages.
”But the center owes Fifth Third Bank $4.5 million on its mortgage, according to BAC board president William Figel, and it has been unable to pay annual principal mortgage payments of $150,000, according to state Sen. Ed Maloney (D-18th).The bank wanted a change in leadership and a change in direction, Maloney said Thursday, and that resulted in the Aug. 21 firing of center director Mike Nix.

 

 

Here’s the GM ( Government Muck-up) solution?

Programs or lunches for senior citizens, park district activities, and events that would draw larger crowds from a wider region are among the ideas that could help save the center after a threatened foreclosure and leadership shake-up, officials said Thursday.

So bus loads of programs ( seniors, Park District kiddies) and “events that would draw larger crowds from a wider region” is the way to pay off that debt? Exactly, what events would attract larger crowds from a wider region?

  1. NASCAR?
  2. John Bromfield’s Rod and Gun Shows?
  3. Clown Rodeo?
  4. Donkey Basketball?
  5. Antique Roadshows?
  6. Competitive Healthy Eating with Michelle Obama & Friends?

Oh, that’s right . . .it’s the Beverly Arts Center(BAC). Arts centered in a community showplace. Beverly Arts Center made a name for itself and home for gifted people to share their talents. Bill Figel and Mike Nix created the atmosphere and paid the bills by bringing in the talent and managing the costs.

One cost that they had little control over was the over-runs in the initial construction of the Center. I do not believe that they had much say in reaching out to the lenders. Bill Figel was angered by his board members’ willingness to fire Mike Nix who managed the non-profit with the care and scrupulous attention to detail of a Greek with a chain of restaurants. (Mr. Nix worked for the Great Greek – Tony DeSantis at venerable Drury Lane Theatre on 95th Street)

Bill Figel rightly tossed this back at the board,

“Mike is uniquely qualified to run the arts center, always has been, always will be,” Figel said.“That’s what I told the board, but the board ultimately decided to adhere to the bank’s wishes.”

Figel said that while the center owes the bank $4.5 million, “you need to understand that original cost was $5 million. Design changes and cost overruns pushed it up to $12 million. That’s what (Nix) inherited when he walked in the front door.”

Nix said he paid more than $5 million in loan and interest fees to the bank since he became the executive director on Aug. 21, 2003, nine years to the day before he was fired.

Nix said Thursday he has never been told the exact reason for his dismissal,

“As I was told, somebody’s gotta be the fall guy,” Nix said. “I was never given an answer, just that the bank wanted me out. The bank wanted me to resign.

“The board asked for my resignation in July. I would not resign because I had done nothing wrong. I’ve been here for nine years, and I’ve taken an operation that was running horribly in the red to an operation running in the black. I created a brand that is recognized around the country, and we now get nationally known performers, members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, to perform here.”

Enrollment in classes, which had hovered at about 200 at the center, is up to 1,400 or 1.500 for some classes, he said.

I know most of the players in this sad and shabby saga. It is sad, because there appears to be the greasy fingers of politics at play ( Park District) and shabby because two good stewards of a great community resource will no longer be a part of this community resource. But that’s just me.

The man who helped bring this community resource from an adjunct site on 111th & Bell to the corner of 111th & Western, former BAC President Bill Figel resigned rather than stooge along with the others and toss BAC Manager under the wheels of the next available southbound CTA # 49-A.

The other fall guy in this shabby scenario is a faceless villain . . .a BANK. Curious, that.

Fifth Third Bank – figure that handle out. Evidently there three resurrections of a BANK times FIVE.

Fifth Third Bank is the result of Bank Acquisitions, beginning in Cincinnati, OH and dating back to before the Civil War. Snappy title. I bank at Beverly Bank, where I know the folks behind the teller stalls and in the board room. Sadly, They do not own the nut on BAC.

Evidently, Beverly Arts Center’s directors can not negotiate with Fifth Third Bank, as the directors of the Italian American Sports Hall of Fame have managed to do with their dunning chaps over the Taylor Street gem. It’s recession! Nobody has money. Negotiate. The Jerry Colangelo Center IAMSHF board did.

But soon after the recession began, the museum hit troubled times. Saddled with big debt from the construction of its new building, the museum defaulted on three loans worth more than $9.4 million in July 2010. A civil lawsuit from the museum’s lender, Bridgeview Bank, sought to take ownership of the museum’s memorabilia, which had backed the loans.

With items like a Mario Andretti racecar, a jacket from Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi’s last game, and a bronze statue of Joe DiMaggio on the line, the museum pitched a deal to its lender Bridgeview Bank. According to an article from Crain’s Chicago Business in November 2011, the bank would receive a lump-sum payment of $6.5 million, and the museum would get a new $800,000 loan.

In the plan, the museum said it intended to sell the building.

According to two key community leaders, the deal to sell the building is still being finalized but is close to being official. The building would be leased back to the museum, but other uses could also be in store for the building.

“The deal is still being negotiated, and the final outcome when the deal is completed is that the museum will stay on Taylor Street,” said Dennis O’Neill, executive director of Connecting 4 Communities. “I think all the details of how the space is utilized are still being worked through.”

Make the Bank take a bite.

Back to the sad – BAC will be an adjunct of the government:

“There is a definite need for some shared tenancy,” Maloney said. “One possibility is for it to join with the Chicago Park District, which also would enable the center to get public funding.

“The bank feels that’s the key, that even increased programming will not be enough to support the center and pay its bills.”

Maloney said he has talked to city officials about other possible tenants, and he believes revenue from park district programs could help pay the mortgage.

Maloney said the center’s money troubles are partially due to an inability to draw from outside the Beverly, Morgan Park and Mount Greenwood communities.

“The neighborhood responded very well to the arts center. … but it needs to be a regional attraction more than a neighborhood attraction,” he said. “I’m not an expert in marketing, but to be a regional attraction, it needs representation from Hyde Park, the South Loop and Palos Park.” (emphasis my own – fill in as many neighborhoods and under served communities as you will)
Figel disputed Maloney’s assertion, saying patrons already visit the center from Orland Park, Tinley Park, Frankfort, Palos Park and other communities.

A political move was planned long before the Fifth Third Bank went all Mr. Potter on the Beverly Art Center, I believe. Rather than sell the building with an agreement to maintain the Center, Rahm and one of the three 19th Ward political grey-beards, not a Joyce or a Sheahan, intends to policy this community center with busloads of free passes, until the building is as empty as Progressive’s promise and as useless as the Borders Books on 95th Street -with its plywood doors and windows.

Everything is political, but that does not mean that everything must also be stupid.

This is one really sad and shabby yarn.

**

Pat Hickey is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer

2 Comments »

  • DMLAwyer said:

    The white flight people have gotten what you voted for.

    Your community voted overwhelmingly for Rahm.

    Now you have buyers remorse.

  • Pat Hickey said:

    Nice dog-whistle you got there, Ambulance Chaser.

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