The Palm Coast City Council is embracing its namesake, the Palm Coast Arts Foundation, and calling its association with the arts group a partnership. The city has agreed to lease the foundation even more land than it had before in Town Center and increasing the arts group’s space by about a third, and doubling the length of the $1-year-lease to 10 years.
The foundation for its part hopes to have its very first physical structure in place in Town Center by April, in time for the eighth annual Picnics and Pops concert with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra—on space that should accommodate triple the number of tables that the foundation could host previously, when the concerts were held nearby at Central Park.
The foundation and the city have been working on the lease for a couple of years. What precipitated the change now was the foundation’s successfully landing a $150,000 state grant to start building its first of four phases at Town Center Boulevard and Central Avenue. That will consist of a 32,000 square-foot open-air arts and culture pavilion center and a small enclosed venue that’ll double up as an event center for meetings and small events that the city and other civic, cultural or business groups can also use.
“When can actually see a stage?” City Council member Bill McGuire asked.
“We would like to see if by April 19 for the eighth annual picnics and pops,” Sam Perkovich, president of the arts foundation, told the council at the end of her presentation this morning. “A lot of that will depend on how quickly you’ll help us get permitting.”
“There’s hardly a day or week goes by that there aren’t signs of how the economy is improving,” Jim Landon, the city manager, said. “We’re getting back to a lot of projects and a lot of good things happening we were planning before. And this is a very good example of that.”
The physical presence of a Palm Coast Arts Foundation structure has been long in coming. Established just over 10 years ago, the foundation had plans to have a big-city, three-stage concert hall as the centerpiece of its arts and culture center in Town Center. But fund-raising and economic challenges got in the way. The big concert hall is still in the plan. But it’ll be in the last stage of the foundation’s four-phased development of its site.
Originally the city planned to have a cultural center and a community center side by side. Today the city administration told the council that plan doesn’t make as much sense anymore. Landon said people “cringed” when they saw plans of a big cultural center at Town Center Boulevard, with a diminutive community center in a corner. Instead, the city is moving its planned community center closer to its tennis center near Belle Terre Parkway, where it can double up as a trail head and recreational hub. It would also give better access to surrounding neighborhoods. “Not that this is on the table at any time,” Beau Falgout, the city’s senior planner, said.
The arts foundation is following up its first-phase success with another grant application—this one for $100,000—for phase two to build a roof over the pavilion’s band shell, landscaping, fountains and a back wall that will eventually be shared with the events center. Phase three will consist of a 19,000 square foot indoor event space that would seat 1,200 banquet style, double that number for simpler assemblies. Beyond that would rise the full-scale arts center with a combined capacity of 2,200 and three stages. The foundation intends to do all that with fund-raisers and limited government dollars: The grant it just secured is tax dollars, and it will seek a capital grant from the Flagler County Tourist Development Council, which is also tax-funded. But no local property tax dollars.
“We’re doing this pay as we go, a phased approach,” Perkovich said. “We don’t want to get over our heads at all. We don’t think it’s a risk at all to the city since you own the land and any improvements we made would be yours, if for some reason we defaulted or it didn’t work. We’re not asking for any local tax dollars.”
McGuire raised a question perkovich has had to answer many times over the years—the same question that has worried the Flagler Auditorium’s governing board: how the new arts center would contend with the Auditorium nearby. “Do you see them being competitive to some of the events you might plan here?” McGuire asked.
“I would say no to that. I would say it’s an entirely different facility,” Perkovich said. “They’re a high school auditorium. They’ve done wonderful things here. My parents were always going to every single one of their events. My mom did until recently. She can’t make it anymore. They do a spectacular job for the facility they have.”
“And they do it primarily with taxpayer money,” McGuire said, somewhat incorrectly.
“With taxpayer dollars, which we’re not asking for,” Perkovich said. “But it’s an entirely different facility. They would not support Broadway shows, the Jacksonville Symphony would not play there. Jacksonville symphony is a union shop and they’re required to bring their entire symphony. They do not fit on the stage. I know the ballet had some problems last year with stage room. That’s a great facility. It’s a learning facility. I’m never putting down that facility. I know people try to trap me, especially the press, all the time. This is a whole different game and a long-term plan. What are our build-out numbers here, 200,000 or something when Palm Coast is built out? That’s when we’re going to support this great facility.”
The auditorium on the campus of Flagler Palm Coast High School is a school-owned facility. It doesn’t pay rent, just as the foundation is not paying rent on city land. The auditorium funds all of its professional performances with its own revenue, however. According to its 2012 financial statement, the auditorium grossed $444,304 in revenue in 2012 (a 16 percent increase over the previous year), and had expenses of $366,445, actually netting a profit. The auditorium’s non-profit arm also provided over $10,000 in local student scholarships in 2012. The auditorium is also the only venue for student and other community performances.
But some of its salaries are subsidized by the district, as are its capital costs, which all come out of property tax dollars. For example, when the school board last September approved re-roofing the auditorium, the $371,300 project was paid for with money from property tax revenue devoted to school capital projects. Next year the dressing room area, the black box theater, the band and choral wing of the building are all scheduled for re-roofing, at a cost of $800,000.
The auditorium and the arts foundation’s larger venue, when it is built, will almost inevitably find themselves competing at least for some events: even a city of 200,000 would pose a challenge to support two major performance arts venues short of dedicated and affluent patronage, which Palm Coast has yet to foster. A serious theater such as City Repertory Theatre, while in its fourth season, still has occasional trouble filling its 50-seat venue despite the very high quality of its shows.
Mayor Jon Netts had pointed questions for Perkovich about the viability of the foundation’s long-term plans.
“My question is how is this design and amenable to change as the vision changes,” Netts said. “Suppose we don’t get a build-out of 200,000. Suppose you don’t get the funding. Where are the standalone components of this?”
Even if it never gets to the final, grander stages, the first phases would still function independently, Perkovich said.
“It’s kind of like our City Hall project where we showed you the different phases,” Landon said. City Hall, to be completed next fall in Town Center, starts small but has room for considerable additions. For now, the city can terminate the lease with the Palm Coast Foundation at 180 days’ notice.
“Until we see that this group can really make these things happen and maintain,” Landon said, “we want to be able to still have control of the property. If they’re successful in phase one and two and they go on to three, the terms of the lease are going to change is going to be a long-term lease.”