I believe that the naysayers of this proposed project may not be as familiar with community colleges in general, and perhaps VC in particular, as they might be. All well-run community colleges can and do turn on a dime, all the time. They respond to opportunities and challenges quickly, with little bureaucratic nonsense. Unlike say, a UHV, they do not have to get permission from the State to do business. They most definitely know how to turn a profit in training and continuing education programming. Their books are open to all and it won't be difficult for interested parties to asses the profit/loss figures. Tuition costs have nothing whatsoever to do with such a building purchase or operation. Those funds can, by state law, only be used for certain expense categories, such as paying faculty salaries, etc. VC has the required infrastructure to run such an enterprise: Accounting, planning and marketing expertise, equipment for printing, various personnel with a high degree of management capability who can and will share responsibilities without needing a fleet of new staff, as well as art and drama departments which will undoubtedly greatly enhance program offerings. Corporate involvement will undoubtedly enhance demand for downtown restaurants and other services. Victoria College gives instant credibility to this operation, which I predicted ten years ago would never be self-sustaining and would face tough times or closing during economic downturns. Face it, Victoria, your city is not the most attractive in the world, and the summer heat is not inviting. However, a well-run downtown facility that is not always on the brink of disaster should greatly improve the opportunities for surrounding businesses to become more stable because the Center, whatever it's to be called, will be stable and inviting. Be grateful for your local community college; it will serve you well. And, Victoria Advocate editorial board, when you praise VC, please include your appreciation for its outstanding teaching in academic subjects, which enables so many Victoria area students to be successful when they transfer to major universities.
Mr. Hewitt,Thank you for the detailed (and time consuming) explaination of the history of this building. If the Victoria Advocate quoted you accurately ...It is still the opinion of this reader that the taxpayers of the county should follow the same course of action as the O'Conner Hewitt Foundation and put this money to better use,
I suppose you are right, TopHat.We should all stop reading the newspaper, turn off our brain, maintain a respectful attitude toward authority, and concentrate on getting throught the metal detectors and pat-downs to offer up our annual check to the tax assesor/collector on time. We certainly would not want to be an embarrasment to anyone who is providing us with a better way of life.
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For those who choose to believe that the proposed transaction is simply a way to get the WC off of The O'Connor & Hewitt Foundation's books, plain and simple - all that I can say is that The Foundation has always kept the long view of Victoria's future in mind. We are proud to have participated in the building of the WC, and look forward to continuing to enhance the facility's steadfast commitment to the future and strength of Victoria Art's Community.
Parenthetically, the sale, should it go through, should prove to be a boon to Theater Victoria, relieving them of the burden of paying the normal operating cost of the WC, while allowing them to focus on what they do best - presenting great live theater to Victorians. The WC will be full of new challenges and offerings ahead for our City, including Film Exhibitions, Museum displays, and VC sponsored arts programs. Additional use of the WC will result in increased foot traffic benefiting downtown business, which in turn will increase tax receipts for the City of Victoria.
VPAC's Board review of the results of the marketing effort led the Board to the decision not to participate in a similar effort the following year, leaving Theater Victoria to proceed on their own volition, should they decide to do so. With the results of these past few years in mind, the marketing of the WC has been a disappointment to the VPAC Board. With an asset such as the WC in hand, other options, if they were to present themselves, had to be considered. For several months Victoria College had signaled to the VPAC Board their interest in the WC, emphasizing their desire to market the facility as VPAC had originally intended in its formative charter, while respecting all donor naming rights. Last week the VPAC Board approved a 90 day period during which VC and VPAC will try and negotiate a sale of the WC, subject to the extinguishment of any outstanding debt.
At this point Theater Victoria presented to the VPAC Board a plan to supplant the Cultural Council as the booking, ticketing, and marketing entity, while introducing the utilization of a portion of HOT funding to pay for the marketing efforts included in their plan. The VPAC Board agreed to the change, having in our judgement few alternatives given the time frame involved, upon the condition that VPAC make the HOT funding submission before Council, and that those funds be dispersed according to City regulations and State law. The funding was approved by council, and administrated by VPAC, never taking it for granted that this was the People's money, subject to taxpayer oversight. All invoices were accordingly vetted by VPAC staff, and by the end of the Fiscal Year, unspent monies were returned to the City.
For several years after the Welder Center opened to the public, the administrative plan worked with few difficulties. Operating losses at the VPAC level were minimal, and use of the WC within the arts community was both encouraging and growing. However, what the WC lacked was a dedicated program to market the facility outside of Victoria. Efforts to achieve this level of marketing were difficult to accomplish within the confines of the Cultural Council's budget and charter, while VPAC's own budget was unable to pay for a dedicated marketing staff position. Simultaneously the relationship between Theater Victoria and Cultural Council became strained, making basic bookings even more difficult. Eventually the Cultural Council clashed with both VPAC and Theater Victoria over the booking procedures which governed the WC, which unfortunately resulted in the City of Victoria greatly reducing their budget.
From VPAC; Inc.'s organization it took ten years for the $3,500.00.00 construction costs to be raised, and the building to renovated as promised to the community and the building's donors. The operating history of the facility is therefore ten years, while the previous ten was spent raising funds and construction activity. During the construction phase Leo Welder, one of the Board's founding members passed away, and in his memory for all of his contributions to Victoria's community, the facility was dedicated to his memory and example as "The Leo J. Welder Center for the Performing Arts".
While the building was built with Theater Victoria as the primary tenant in mind; it was never VPAC; Inc.'s intention to place the facility solely as within Theater Victoria's use. With that foremost in the Board's consideration of multiple use by multiple arts organizations, the Victoria Cultural Council was brought in as the "umbrella" arts organization which would individually contract with all interested arts organizations as to individual needs and venue that each group would require. A three tiered fee schedule was implemented which allowed for qualified 501 (c) 3 Victoria based arts groups the lowest rental fees; qualified 501(c) 3 outside Victoria arts groups were charged a slightly higher rental fee; and finally non-qualified interested parties were charged the highest fee on the tier. Theater Victoria and the Cultural Council each paid VPAC; Inc. $1.00 a year in rent, in exchange for Theater Victoria, as the facility's role as primary tenant being responsible for general operating expenses; with the Victoria Cultural Council being responsible as booking and ticketing agent for the facility as a whole. With this management plan in place, it was never VPAC's intention for the facility to be viewed as the "Theater Victoria", so as to make it clear to the public and the arts community specifically that the building was open to all.
VPAC; Inc. was formed to facilitate the renovation of the old Dunlaps Department store into a performing arts center for all interested arts groups in Victoria. The beginning of planning a renovation of such wide scope within the arts community was a long and thorough survey of what interested arts groups wanted in such a facility. Dozens of arts groups participated in the survey. The building's auditorium was limited to less than 500 seats in order to avoid triggering exorbitant copyright surcharges that automatically "kick" in for venues with larger seating capacity. As to the final design: ample wing space, a flying loft, and the rear annex building were included to provide maximum flexibility of use for the maximum number of potential users. With these goals and limitations under careful consideration, VPAC; Inc. was able to meet 90% of the combined expectations of all the arts groups participating in the survey, while keeping the cost of renovations within the expected donation limits of the private sector of Victoria.
For a location like this to be successful it needs to be utilized by many different events, which bring in many new people to the area. Unfortunately with the theater being a permanent tenant, the number of days available for rental is reduced greatly. Set building, rehearsals, events days, tear down and days in between can eat up a large portion of the calendar.. If the theater pays rent for the days it uses the facility, then the venue would be closer to holding it’s own, but I don’t think that is the case. I find it hard to believe that the theater will be thrilled to give up the almost exclusive rein of the facility, in lieu of the new owner’s planned events.
im going to guess vc needs a bigger training center to handle the new business flow from caterpillar. i've heard companies are already looking outside the Victoria area for training needs and such. just not enough seats in this area.
HookEm1, I have apparently missed something somewhere because both you and N3225J seem to have some sort of information that VC is not a good manager of their 'business'. Perhaps you all feel tuition costs could be lower and this is the basis of your position. I don't know. But VC is not the pnly place that raised tuition. (Don't forget Geanie Morrison at this point)
A perfoming arts building is an adjunct item to classrooms. It's the same as saying they hope a new student center would be well used. That item doesn't necessarily have a direct effect on learning.
Do you know for sure that VPAC went actively looking for a buyer? Could it have been the other way around? Remember, there is a relatively small group of folks who travel in the same circles around these parts. It wouldn't take but a few hours for someone to suggest that someone else call someone else and, well, you know how that works.
Connect the dots for me on how this is the same issue as the City bending rules. I don't see rules being bent here.
I appreciate the discussion, too, but at this time, I have to go on the information I have, and I am in support of this project at this time. If you can bring something that makes me change my mind, I'll listen.
VC is buying the Welder Center to use as a corporate training center. There will be no operating debt--they,in fact, should be turning a huge profit on the building. I expect to see a huge jump in rental costs. Unless they have a tiered rate plan for nonprofits, all the arts in Victoria will lose out--theatre, ballet, symphony, etc. I hope the college has an eye out for the bigger picture and not just the pocketbook.
EdithAnn,As stated in the editorial, “Mr. Hewitt commented that he wanted the center to shine brightly at all times. He said he did not like to see the colorful lights of the center dark at night, indicating a lack of use.” I believe that Mr. Hewitt, the Editorial Board, you and I would all like to see this. However, you and the Editorial Board have a faith in Victoria College management that I do not share.
As VC president Tom Butler said, “The goal of the acquisition is to have the center used more and to serve in the revitalization of downtown.” Where in this statement is any mention made of providing the best education available, at the most affordable cost possible to the area students? There are already innumerable organizations dedicated to revitalizing downtown. I do not believe we need yet another, taxpayer supported, organization to join the crowd.
The O’Conner Hewitt Foundation is not composed of a bunch of dummies. If they have analyzed the situation and decided to go in another direction then I think that the taxpayers of the county should take heed and listen. The Foundation has been using their own money all of these years. If Victoria College thinks they can do better they are gambling … but the difference is … they are gambling with other people’s money. VC has access to the deep pockets of the taxpayers.
(Aside: Wouldn’t it be wonderful if these board members and officials were actually held financially accountable for their decisions?)
You made eloquent arguments on the issue of the city council going back on its own rules and funding the up-coming film festival. Your arguments were based on the council ‘doing the right thing’, following their own rules and denying funding in spite of the fact that a film festival would be a nice event to have. This is the same argument. It would be nice to have the Welder Center active with lights on every night, but it is not right for the taxpayers to be paying for it.
I am sure that I am in the minority on this issue and it will go through, so I will drop out. It has been an interesting discussion.
Trust the College? Ho, Ho, Ho. Ho, ho, ho, oh no.
Your points are well taken, HookEm1, but...
VC is replacing a building at a teensy fraction of what a new building would have cost. In the grand scheme of things, $68,000 is like pocket change for VC, and that should not cause a giant shift of any budget item. I think that expenditure should slide right by with hardly a notice to taxpayers, should this deal go through. It's not a done deal, yet.
As to the history of the profitability of the WC, that history sits squarely with Theatre Victoria, not the 'building', the O'Connor-Hewitt Foundation or anyone else. This deal will end their management of the building. Does VC depend on any of their building to be profitable (outside of tuition, of course)? VC is not in the rental business. Theatre Victoria, as the managers of a performing venue, are. There is a difference of missions, so to speak, at play here.
As to the O'Connor-Hewitt Foundation, while they have been huge benefactors of the Welder Center, they are just that--benefactors. They have made the choice to support the VPAC (Welder Center), but they are free to pull their funding at any time.
And, for other downtown businesses, I am willing to see what happens with new management. I trust the college to manage this venture with the same success they have established with the rest of their campus. This is just a piece that is located somewhere else.
All facets of the current management and funding of the Welder Center will change with this deal. Will it really be worse? I don't think so.
EdithAnn,You make an interesting argument for your point of view. You conclude, “all parties who actually have an interest in this venture seem to think it is a great idea.” *The O’Conner Hewitt Foundation wins because they get to wash their hands of this money loser.*Victoria College may get a cheap building initially, but they will have the long term maintenance of a property that has a 20 year history of losing money. (Also, I have not read in any of these articles that Victoria College plans to cancel rebuilding their auditorium if they purchase this one.)*The downtown restaurants and bars have had the theatre operating for many years and I do not hear of them getting rich due to the theatre crowd. The one group that you did not mention as a winner is the county taxpayers. Victoria College, a taxpayer supported institution, will now be responsible for the losses. When it comes to making a proposition profitable, I would bet on the members of the O’Conner Hewitt Foundation before I would bet on Victoria College. After 20 years of trying the Foundation has decided to give up and put their money to a better use. The idea that VC can be successful where the Foundation has failed is not logical. The Victoria College Board and VC Administration has demonstrated that they have a single prong solution to all of their problems which is to raise the prices to their students and raise the taxes on county residents.
The O’Conner Hewitt Foundation did a beautiful, first class job on this building and they have been very patient in supporting it all of these years. The obvious and proven fact is, that the building is not used enough to justify its existence. I wish it was a different story but the facts speak loudly.
Just as the O’Conner Hewitt Foundation would like to put its money to a better use … so also, the taxpayers of the county should put their money to a better use.
Everybody wins? Ho Ho Ho.
When I first learned of the sale of the VPAC to Victoria College, I thought this was a great idea that would benefit all invested parties involved. But I had some questions and I did a little investigating. I knew from personal involvement in the Victoria Community Theatre when it was still on Constitution Street how hard it was to finally scrape up enough money to go forward with the renovation of the Dunlap building. I also knew the deal would be that the Theatre would be the resident company in the finished building. They don’t own the building, they are merely tenants. When this new Theatre was build, it basically doubled the size of the old Theatre.
The Victoria Performing Arts Center is otherwise known as the "Leo J. Welder Center for the Performing Arts". The Board owns the Welder Center. The Welder Center was built with the funds of many individuals, foundations, and corporate gifts. VPAC built the Welder Center for the citizens of Victoria to enjoy the arts.
As to the low sale price of the Welder Center, VPAC, as a non-profit 501 (c) 3 entity is restricted by the prevailing IRS code from making a profit on the sale of its principal asset, the building. The sale of the building will allow the O’Connor –Hewitt Foundation to turn their attention to other vital needs of this community. I believe the VPAC board will cease to exist.
The college razed the auditorium because it was more cost efficient than repairing it as I recall. They have initiated a purchase where they will get a very nice building for next to nothing and certainly at a fraction of the cost of rebuilding their auditorium.
The way I see it, Theatre Victoria wins—this puts them in a better financial position. They will no longer have to fund the maintenance on the Welder Center. The Victoria College wins—they get another auditorium for a song. Downtown Victoria eateries and bars will win each time this venue is used. With 495 seats, I think it will continue to be used enough to justify its existence. The new VISD FAC seats about 1500, so it falls into a different category for use.
But, in any event, all parties who actually have an interest in this venture seem to think it is a great idea, and I agree with them.
But honestly, a venue that seats less than 500 will not make money. You can't even attract up and coming acts to a venue that small without losing your shirt.
Tickets would have to have been priced way beyond the means of local folks. Victorian's would have been paying top dollar to see cut rate acts.
The plan for building the facility was not very well thought out, from a business perspective, it's capacity basically was enough to accommodate Theater Victoria crowds and not much else.
When VC tore down their own auditorium didn't Butler claim their own auditorium, that had a larger capacity and was located on campus, no longer met their needs?
If that was the case, how does a smaller auditorium, off campus meet their needs?
The problem is the Welder Center was so mismanaged from the get go.
VPAC wanted to be the sole tenant and trying to book an act in that venue was like trying to get an act of God to take place.
Call about a date, any date, and it might "conflict with the Theater's schedule so it is not available," was the typical response.
You can't make money when you keep turning it away.
Never look a gift horse in the mouth … or … beware of Greeks bearing gifts? I prefer the later. Without a doubt, the O’Conner Hewitt Foundation does a lot of good work for the Victoria area. I do not believe this is one of them.
The idea that this building is worth an “estimated $4.5 million”, as stated in your January 31st news article, is preposterous. If the foundation can find a buyer at that price they should sell in a heartbeat and put the money to use with some of their other charities. Instead we will have this building dumped on the taxpayers. Your Jan. 31st article also stated, “IRS records showed that VPAC spent more money than it’s earned in the past four years”. “The O’Conner Hewitt Foundation supplied 89% of the contributions that VPAC received in 2010”. As Mr. Hewitt admits, again from your Jan, 31st article, “those monies can be used to feed people, clothe people and other humanitarian things.” It is easy to understand why the O’Conner Hewitt Foundation wants to get out from under this thing. It is a money pit.
Instead of calling a loser a loser, the editorial board wants to dump it, and its $80,000 a year operating expense on the taxpayers. Victoria College will do just as it has done this year. When they do not have enough money (in their eyes) they raise the tuition on the students who have to go further in debt with more student loans and they raise the tax rate to the county citizens. If this building loses money every year operating with volunteer labor, how much is it going to lose with VC employed maintenance people and administrators? Downtown Victoria deserved to have their ancient sewers and crumbling streets fixed, just like every other part of town. That is done and it is now time to move on to other neglected parts of the city. Downtown needs to become successful, or flop, by way of private enterprise and not by way of continued taxpayer funds. Unlike the editorial board, I am NOT, “confident that Victoria College will be an excellent owner/manager of the center”. They have not demonstrated this ability in the past.
Like the editorial board, I DO, “look forward to a vibrant performing arts center, one where the lights would never go out prematurely,” but only if it is done as a private, pay as you go, for profit, business.
This is the opinion of one reader.