City Council Fireworks over Proposed Arts Venue Lease Deal
Unlike the movies, sparks don't always fly at city council meetings. It's not all Mr Smith Goes to Washington all the time. In fact, most of the time, proceedings there beat C-Span 2 in the insomnia-curing department.
James Rodriguez tells Hair Balls his concerns
Yesterday was one of the dramatic exceptions to that rule.
It happened when city Development Director Andy Icken (of Heights Wal-Mart e-mail leak infamy) and Houston Convention Center Hotel Corporation Board Chairman Ric Campo briefed the committee on the proposed consolidation of the city's Convention & Entertainment Facilities Department with Campo's HCCHC.
Basically, the merger would create a nonprofit organization called the Houston First Corporation. Pending council approval on May 18, Houston First would lease out the George R. Brown Convention Center, the Wortham Theater, Jones Hall, Jones Plaza, Miller Outdoor Theatre, Sesquicentennial Park, Root Memorial Square and several other smaller park and performing arts facilities from the city for a one-time cash payment of $8.6 million, followed by yearly payments of $1.4 million over the next five years.
Amid the drone of acronym-laden, jargon-heavy talk that followed (amid the alphabet soup, we got to hear the word "visioning" quite a bit), and a few questions from mostly contented council members, there suddenly erupted a volcano in the form of Councilman James Rodriguez, whose District I encompasses downtown, the site of most of the venues and the home of many arts donors and patrons.
"I have several serious concerns about the proposed Hotel Corporation/CEFD organizational changes, including failure to communicate this information to me as the downtown district Council Member," he began, in a cold fury.
"For several years, I have worked tirelessly to improve facilities in District I, including those in our downtown. I find it ironic that in the past, I have been asked to build consensus and garner support for matters pertaining to these facilities and didn't even get a phone call to brief me on this matter."
While several other members thanked Icken and Campo for briefing them as early as last Thursday, the two men evidently forgot to bring the guy whose district this would be affecting most into the loop. Interesting -- it was either incompetent or nefarious.
Without waiting for answers, Rodriguez asked Campo and Icken which stakeholders were part of the discussions, and how they felt about the proposed deal. He wanted to know what the short- and long-term impacts would be to the Theater District, convention business, and local arts programs. He wanted to know how all these facilities would be improved, and who would be held accountable should they fall apart, or should customer service erode. He called for more in-depth public discussion and pointed out again that these are taxpayer assets. And he closed by demanding to know who was on Campo's board, and wanted to know if it was both diverse and had at least some members with experience of running multimillion dollar facilities.