“We think he took a superficial look at it previously”
By Alissa Johnson
The Mt. Crested Butte Town Council has submitted a second letter of support for the Mt. Crested Butte Performing Arts Center (MCBPAC) to aid efforts to secure financing through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Proponents of the project are meeting with a representative of the USDA rural development program on Thursday, March 2 in Denver, and hope to demonstrate that the Biery-Witt Center qualifies for funding.
At a February 21 council meeting, MCBPAC executive director Woody Sherwood explained that the letter was a consideration letter, and the meeting itself a consideration hearing. Because many of the pledges for the construction of the Biery-Witt Center will not be available immediately, he and the MCBPAC board of directors are looking to secure financing that would monetize those pledges into cash flow.
The goal of the hearing is to ensure that the representative from the rural development program, who is relatively new to his position, has all pertinent information about the project and understands that it does qualify for USDA funding.
“We’re trying to educate the man and bring him through the process because we think he took a superficial look at it previously and maybe didn’t realize what he was looking at,” Sherwood explained.
Town manager Joe Fitzpatrick confirmed for the Crested Butte News that while the project had previously been approved for funding by the USDA, enough time had elapsed that the MCBPAC is updating its application. The new representative wasn’t convinced that the project qualified.
“[The meeting] is to try to educate this new decision maker about what the project is really like,” Fitzpatrick said.
At the meeting, councilmember Janet Farmer said she supported taking this next step but had some concerns with the letter itself. Among them, she felt that it was too long at three pages—something that councilmember Nicholas Kempin also questioned.
“It’s a great letter, but is anybody going to read that long a letter?” Kempin asked.
“That was one of my concerns. Some things in here didn’t need to be expressed or included. To me it was a distraction to have that much in there,” Farmer said. She indicated that she did not feel she could endorse the letter, though she didn’t intend to oppose it either.
Sherwood felt the length of the letter was appropriate, given that the purpose of the meeting was to provide the representative with information he hadn’t necessarily seen before.
“I think it will be a strong presentation,” Sherwood said.
The letter acknowledges that the town is contributing the majority of the funding to the project through a land contribution of $1.2 million and support from the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and the town to the tune of $7.8 million.
It goes on to note that the Town Council is discussing extending the DDA for 20 years, and the DDA is discussing the commitment of an additional $4 million for parking. That, according to the letter, would allow the DDA and Town Council to commit an additional $11.4 million for the facility, bringing the town’s total commitment to $19.2 million.
The wording regarding that additional commitment reflected one change that Farmer had requested and been granted—she said the first draft of the letter made it sound like those decisions had been made, when the council had not actually had the chance to discuss them yet.
Though mayor Todd Barnes indicated it was an open discussion regarding whether the council supported the letter and the project, there wasn’t a lot of discussion beyond clarifying details.
Councilmember Ken Lodovico said he thought it made sense to approve the letter and see what happened at the hearing. “Let’s take it to the next step. I would like to be part of the steps a little more moving forward,” he noted.
Ultimately, the council agreed and voted six to one in favor of the letter. Farmer wanted to abstain but was told that wasn’t an option. She voted against the letter.
On Thursday, Sherwood, Fitzpatrick, former mayor William Buck, and Bill Ronai, co-president of the Biery-Wit Center, will attend the hearing so that, according to Fitzpatrick, the full public/private partnership is represented. There is an appeals process should the consideration hearing result in being turned down.