Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Overture Center: Here To Stay

Once again, businessman Jerry Frautschi opened his checkbook and has put what appears to be the final touch on settling the debt for the Overture Center for the Arts. Paul Fanlund, who writes the excellent column “Madison 360” for says it’s time for the sniping to end.

His persuasive column, which appeared yesterday, acknowledges that there’s been grousing about the Overture Center since the day Frautschi proposed it to then-Mayor Baumann. A few days ago, Frautschi met the lenders about half-way so the quarter-billion-dollar structure, with the approval of the City Council, can be sold to the city for a dollar, and the city will staff and operate it.

Do NOT assume this will fly through the City Council. And do not assume that even though the 800-pound Gorilla, the remaining debt on the Overture Center, has been removed, that the huge downtown building will now be embraced by the nay-sayers.

As Fanlund points out, the debt issues that plagued Overture have now been settled, so the argument about the city taxpayer being on the hook for millions and millions is now moot. Estimates from city hall are that it will cost the city about a million and a half dollars a year to run the place – well within the same ball-park of what it cost to run the Civic Center.

But there’s the rub.

Even though the city would take ownership of a magnificently-appointed performing arts venue at a cost similar to running the Civic Center, which is, let’s face it, a glorified, renovated movie theater, this is a time when budget priorities are being examined more closely than ever before.

A few clicks away from Fanlund’s column on is a story about the committee appointed to study better ways to clear snow in the winter, suggesting that about a million bucks would do it, and discussion about what a huge object that million-dollar price-tag is right now.

Another few clicks away is a story about salaries paid to Dane County employees, and calls for reform on how public employees are paid and how their contracts are negotiated.

We’re not in a mood to throw money at anything, and that’s not likely to change until the economy moves solidly up and unemployment moves solidly down. And the city alders are going to hear that message loud and clear from their constituents when debate begins on the fate of the Overture Center on August 3rd.

And there will always be the small but noisy crowd that’s still angry that their favorite hamburger joint (Dotty’s) had to move to make way for the Overture Center.

I wonder if Jerry Frautschi ever thinks that passage in the Sermon On The Mount – the one about casting pearls before swine – was written with Madison in mind.


  1. What do you think would happen if the PRM City Council votes AGAINST that $1.5 million per annum to run the joint? Now that the city owns it that complicates matters. Have they purchased a white elephant? An albatross? A dead fish?

    I like the place all right. I saw a performance on the signature organ a few weeks ago during the excellent Farmers' Market in the Capitol square. The Overture Center is a bit too Danish Modern for my taste, but it looks pretty good for having cost a quarter of a billion dollars (yikes!).

    Might the city "sell" the joint to a private foundation of some sort to get it off their hands? If it doesn't have any debt and the city doesn't try to sell it for more than, say, a buck-fifty, might Mr. Frautschi lead the charge to privatize it?

    I'm not so knowledgable about the bizarre details of this story as you are, but do you really think that your elected encumbrances would NOT fund the OC?

    Re: Dotty' where did it move to? I'd like to check it out the next time I'm in your fair city.

    The Town Crank

  2. Is the Houdini Center or whatever it's called on College Ave in Appleton privately run? I'd be amazed to find any such venue that isn't subsidized in some way by a municipality, either through tax breaks, direct cash injection, or some other form of assistance.

    Now that the debt monster is gone, the alderoids will likely grouse about it, attempt to micro-manage it, and then underwrite it. They'll make sure that work for city employees at the OC will ushers and ticket-takers make somewhere close to 18 bucks an hour....and then make "valuable" suggestions to the programming staff about having more Peruvian flute players and important civic lecturers come in to entertain the masses.

    I don't mind the city underwriting the cost at this level; arts almost always have to be subsidized, and it is a nice venue.

    They could attempt to sell naming rights, I suppose. The Rosemont Horizon is now something like the "Allstate Arena", but it's still the same joint.

    As to Dottys, the hamburger joint now lives at 317 North Francis....just a hop/skip/jump from where it was.


  3. There isn't a big museum or arts palace or major sports venue in New York City that survives on its own financial wherewithal. Not the Javits Convention Center, not the Metropolitan Museum of Art, not Yankee Stadium, not Radio City Music Hall.

    Realistically, it cannot be otherwise.

    I'd never heard of Overture until I started reading Madison bloggers, so I cannot speak authoritatively about it. That won't prevent me from proffering a personal observation:

    Inconclusive political scrums and dustups over Overture will likely continue indefinitely until Madison, the community - town, gown and City Hall - decides to decide what sort of a city it wants to be.

    To paraphrase Winnie the Pooh ... once Madison decides what it is not, the rest should be easy.

    The eight million+ people in New York, a dizzying diversity, all agree on practically nothing (traffic jams might be an exception; it seems they all show up for them every day at the same time). But never mind all those many differences: They are New Yorkers and they know what New York is and how it looks, both up close and from a distance, and they are, by and large, OK with it.

    "New York state of mind" is much deeper than a catchy marketing slogan.

    When the Mets moved into Citi Field, a couple of local politicians - in re-election mode - suggested it should be renamed City Taxpayer Field. But it was just a jape.

    When it comes to public support for the institutions that make New York the city it is ... in my quarter of a century here, I've yet to hear the subject come up for serious debate inside or outside of City Hall.