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Fix It or Close It!

That was the message about Arlington County’s Artisphere that the Arlington County Civic Federation sent to the County Board on Tuesday evening. In addition to discussing and voting unanimously on the County Manager’s proposed FY 2013 budget (discussed yesterday in Growls), Civic Federation delegates also considered a separate resolution.

Here’s how Scott McCaffrey began his reporting in the online Arlington Sun Gazette on Wednesday:

“Delegates to the Arlington County Civic Federation on April 3 delivered a blunt message to county officials: Either get the troubled Artisphere under financial control soon, or shut the facility down.

“Delegates voted 30-12, with five abstentions, on a motion calling on county officials to close the facility by the end of the year if progress is not made in stemming an ongoing tide of red ink.

“The Artisphere, located in the former Newseum space in Rosslyn, opened with great fanfare in late 2010, but quickly proved to be a money pit for county taxpayers.

“The facility has busted its budget severely,” said Wayne Kubicki, who chairs the Civic Federation’s revenues and expenditures committee, which recommended the resolution. “It has nowhere near made its budget; it hasn’t come close. Revenues have been appreciably lower, expenses have been appreciably higher.”

The discussion about the Artisphere resolution was quite a bit more contentious than the budget resolution, as evidenced by the the following reporting by Mr. McCaffrey:

“Whether they’ve ever stepped inside or not, county taxpayers are major partners in the endeavor. Net tax support for the Artisphere totaled $2.1 million in fiscal 2011, $2.7 million in fiscal 2012 and is expected to be $1.6 million in fiscal 2013.

“Almost, but not quite, resisting the temptation to say I-told-you-so was Larry Mayer, a former Civic Association president who opposed the facility from the start.

“I saw very early on there was a lot of – I’ll try to be kind – fluff in the economic projections, [but] I was told I didn’t know what I was talking about,” Mayer said.

“Mayer said that in a time of tight budgets, the Artisphere may be a luxury the county can’t afford.

"We put an awful lot of money into this, a lot more than anyone expected,” he said.

"Both Kubicki and Mayer said they hoped the Artisphere could be turned around, if only to recoup the millions that have been spent on capital improvements to the space.”

A more detailed discussion of the financial problems of the Artisphere can be found on pages 11 and 12 of the Civic Federation’s budget analysis (requires Adobe). Here’s the Artisphere resolution that was passed by Federation delegates 38-12-5:

"Whereas, the Revenues & Expenditures Committee of the Arlington County Civic Federation has reviewed the Revised Artisphere Business Plan and Report of the Artisphere Task Force, dated November 29, 2011; and

“Whereas, the operations of Artisphere for FY11 (actual) and FY12 (re-projected) required annual Net Tax Support of $2.1M and $2.7M, respectively, well in excess of the budgeted amounts for both years; and

"Whereas, the County Manager’s proposed budget for FY13 provides for annual Net Tax Support for Artisphere of $1.6M, well in excess of the annual Net Tax Support originally projected for Artisphere;

"Therefore, be it resolved that it is the opinion of the Federation that, if Artisphere’s actual operations for FY13 do not appear to be approximately on budget as of late 2012, that the County Board should direct the County Manager to proceed to close the facility and negotiate a lease termination with the owner of the facility.”

If you do not agree with the Federation's analysis of the budget or the County Board's spending on the Artisphere, become a Civic Federation delegate (contact information here).

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