The arts are dead! Long live the arts! Astute readers of this wildly popular compendium of topical scattered thoughts have long realized that the mysterious entity known as the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts has long ago given up any attachment to its titular "arts" premise. The center is a lot of things - a wish made on a star, a drop bucket for excess philanthropic monies from the booster set, a pterodactyl - but among the things it most glaringly isn't (besides a reality) is a hub for creative impulses. And as expected, it became something of a public embarrassment when glasses-wearing number cruncher Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs dropped a 12-page bomb on the project on Feb. 10.
The story's already reached critical mass, so we'll spare the details, save a few: DPAC fudged its numbers regarding the necessity of its required $25 million operating endowment, the city doesn't have the money to pay its $31 million guarantee, postponing the local phase (the acoustic hall) is not fiscally sound (or even honest) and all of DPAC head Kathy Ramsberger's abacus rattling has been a complete hoax. And that was just the beginning.
A closer read of the report put together by the county's comptrollers and accountability officers reveals signs of a business plan run amuck. Much of the suspicion comes from contracts signed with Houston-based real estate firm Hines Interests and Dallas-based commercial construction company Balfour Beatty Construction, which was handed a sweetheart deal that included 62 percent salary mark-ups for supervisory personnel (including 19 percent bonuses) and $1,000 a month for car expenses for its senior vice president (plus lunch money!). Also, more predictably, DPAC seemed to only be going for the nicest things, somehow sidetracking competitive bidding in favor of granite countertops. Typical Orlando, but not typical Orange County. To the county it is a "deeply flawed project."
Cue the dispatches from the victim bunker. Like they did when we called the project foul a year ago (see "Keeping up appearances," March 24, 2010), the city and DPAC have come out swinging with accusations of "gross inaccuracies" in the report, and naturally, notions of political retribution. Jacobs has a bone to pick with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, see, because he supported Bill Segal in last year's mayoral stakes. Also, the county never wanted anything to do with the project, according to the mayor; it just wanted an invite to the ribbon cutting. That is, until DPAC came crying to the county for a $30 million loan last month, he'd be advised to recall. Also, it's called an interlocal agreement for a reason. This isn't politics; it's a bait and switch.
Dyer was "surprised and disappointed" by the memo, according to his official statement, and he promised to keep moving forward with this "world class performing arts center." Jim Pugh Jr., DPAC chairman, said in a statement that although he was "clearly blindsided" by the memo, he feels "confident in the leadership and vision of this project." Though Jacobs may have come on tough - and awesome - she also submitted that she wants to move forward, only with greater transparency. Hmm, what's another word for transparency? Influence Just ask our friend and DPAC board member, Linda Chapin, who told the Sentinel that Jacobs just needed to be "fully briefed . . We look forward to getting Mayor Jacobs up to speed." Don't drink the afternoon tea, Teresa!
Not all of Central Florida's municipalities were so willing to lay prostrate before the siren song of fine arts prestige. Take the city of Maitland, which, the day before the battering of DPAC, pulled back the reins on Art & History Museums Maitland (formerly the Maitland Art and History Association) after the hungry young organization, not even a year old, essentially told the city that it needed a 99-year lease for the historic Maitland Art Center property - now, please. "I get the impression that there seems to be a rush to get this done," said Maitland mayor Howard Schieferdecker at the Feb. 9 meeting between the city and A&H representatives at City Hall.
Speaking to A&H director Andrea Bailey Cox, Councilman Phil Bonus presented the bitter pill. "We don't have the empirical experience of your success at all yet," he said. "We're all just a little nervous."
But Cox argued that the equation was the other way around: A&H would only be able to prove itself once it had the stability and legitimacy ?afforded it by having a claim to the art center. "It's a horse and cart issue," she said.
After some introspection, the city realized that it doesn't quite know what it wants A&H to prove exactly and will reconvene with the group on March 2 to talk more about their feelings.
'Twas the seventh of February, and hours after Rick Scott unveiled his new budget, about 50 firefighters, police officers and their sympathizers united behind their windbreakers at the corner of Bumby Road and E. Colonial Drive to voice their displeasure at Count Scott's plan for their pensions. The governor had proposed that state employees begin paying 5 percent of their salaries into the state pension fund, that new hires have their contributions invested in a 401(k)-style plan rather than the existing defined benefit plans, that the Deferred Retirement Option Program be eliminated and that cost-of-living adjustments for existing pensions end.
But, knowing that all those details are somewhat cryptic, tentative and difficult to communicate in sound bites, most protestors took a cue from the Egyptians and raised the simpler, larger issue of the man himself: Can Embezzler-in-Chief Rick Scott be trusted with all that money? Or, as Phil Chase, a city firefighter, put it: "How are you going to be the taxpayers' savior by stealing from us?"
"Oh, they're pissed," says Steve Clelland, president of the Orlando Professional Firefighters union, of the people surrounding him. Clelland estimates that half of the city's firefighters and 80 percent of police officers vote Republican, and that, if the proposed pension plan passes in the legislature, Scott could see his slim margin of victory emerge on the other side of the ticket come election time. "When you attack their benefits, it's personal," he says.
Amid last month's ominous headlines of "pension timebombs," we spoke with John Park, a corporal with the Orange County sheriff's office and president of the Central Florida Police Benevolent Association, the group that is bargaining with the county on behalf of the police officers. Park said that fears of unsustainable pensions are overblown, and if cuts needed to happen, legislators should look elsewhere. "We have no opposition to tweaking the whole plan, but [we don't support] putting it on the backs of those who haven't had raises in years and have skyrocketing health care costs," he told us. "I don't think we should start contributing to our plans when we don't get paid that much to begin with."
Time to be a rock star, then. Somewhere between Egypt, Tiger Moms and Mark Zuckerberg, TIME magazine found the space to shine the spotlight on Full Sail University for, oh we dunno, BEING A GRAMMY FACTORY. From the piece:
"With a 191-acre campus that features a back lot, soundstages and 110 studios packed with dazzling equipment, could it be the best-kept secret in higher ed?"
In the relatively short profile, author Ada Calhoun hits the major pros and cons we've all heard a million times in Orlando: "Full Male," for-profit rip-off, state-of-the-art facilities, etc. The weird part is she quotes Phil Tan, one of Full Sail's Hall of Fame superstars, then posits him as if he's only recently found success. (And the drummer for the Crazy Carls as a cited source? Weird.)
But that's nitpicking. The angle is a great one, and the success of its graduates is a major source of pride for the school: Every single one of this year's Grammy nominees for Album of the Year was mixed or engineered by a Full Sail grad. So congrats to Full Sail, which happens to employ at least two former/current editors of Orlando Weekly and many members of the local arts community. FTW!