Two rumors have been circulating about the soon-to-be-released findings regarding the City’s performing-arts needs. One, possibly started by me, is that one of the sites recommended for a comprehensive performing-arts center is along the banks of the San Antonio River just south of the San Antonio Museum of Art. The land is owned by SAMA, however, and one businessman said to me a couple of weeks ago, “They’ll never do it.” I’m not sure why. At their current rate of renovation and development, that patch’ll need mowing for another 25 years.
Perhaps the delay in releasing the latest report is to allow time to strike that suggestion from the record; we don’t like to call out our local philanthropists. Not so, says Office of Cultural Affairs Director Felix Padrón: “We really want to make sure that it’s accurate and that the expectations are correct.”
“I think the report right now is saying that `a performing-arts complex` needs to be in the downtown area,” he adds. “The river is still an option — where exactly we’re not sure yet.” Hemisfair Park is also a potential location, but Padrón cautions, “the report is still in draft form; by the time we release the report it may say something else.”
A second rumor, matched by Express-News’ columnist Mike Greenberg’s math, is that such a center, including multiple stage venues, rehearsal halls, and classrooms, would cost more than $200 million. Padrón is also cautious on this point.
“It’s hard to say at this time how much the performing-arts center’s going to be,” he says. “There’s basically two approaches: the high-end approach, which includes hiring a hallmark architect `such as` Frank Gehry. Once you start moving in that direction, you’re talking about a very expensive design. But then you look at halls like the one in Seattle, and it was a very moderate construction cost but at the end of the day it’s being celebrated for its acoustics.”
Of course, whether it’s an architectural showstopper or an unremarkable but functional structure, it has to be paid for. Recently, cultural (né sports) consultant Mike Sculley recommended that the City redirect the proposed venue-tax extension from the AT&T center toward river improvements and a performing-arts center. That would require taking county funds — voters approved the hotel-occupancy tax to fund the county’s portion of the sports-arena construction — and giving them to the metropolis, but with Phil Hardberger and Nelson Wolff at the respective helms, it could happen.
An off-the-record source involved in The Cultural Collaborative, which is reponsible for commissioning the performing-arts study, noted that the venue tax came up at a TCC meeting last year. “It’s interesting that in this city the performing-arts community has that kind of connection,” the source said. “Does it mean the prospect has been seriously talked about since that time?”
Look for a final report, including recommended venues, price tags, and funding mechanisms, in “one to two months.”
Speaking of investing in the future, the Sallie Mae Fund National Bus Tour is coming to town to “Educate Families About Planning and Paying for College,” April 2-3, just as famlies are wondering whether it’s not actually easier to file taxes than it is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. (House Democrats Rahm Emanuel of Illinois and George Miller of California sympathize. They’ve introduced the College Aid Made E-Z Act this session.)
This is the same Sallie Mae whose CEO, Thomas Fitzpatrick, has been lobbying hard against a proposed interest-rate cut from 6.8 to 3.4 percent for some future student loans, passed by the House in January and now being number-crunched in the Senate.
According to the Washington Post, Fitzpatrick’s compensation totalled almost $40 million in 2005, so it’s possible that he doesn’t understand that paying bills and keeping up with student loans can force graduates into a latter-day indentured servitude. Or that $4,000, the estimated average amount a student would save once the interest-rate cut is fully phased in in 2012 according to the Project on Student Debt, is a car or even house downpayment for a lot of people.
In its analysis of the proposed legislation, the Project on Student Debt reports that “Subsidized Stafford Loans go primarily to students from middle- and low-income families,” and that most dependent students with family incomes of $80,000 or less receive Subsidized Stafford Loans. The average debt for seniors graduating from a four-year Texas college is just over $17,000 — not the highest in the country, but still a stiff tab with which to start a new life.