Downtown Study HUGE Disappointment

In my February post I alluded to a phenomenon called “pleasing the paymaster.”  In  this case, I hate being right.  As the speaker for the Lakota group was reviewing results, it was obvious the statistics were being interpreted in a way that skewed toward the preconceived results that were preordained before the study even started.  Granted, there were some window dressing suggestions  made by the people who actually own the property  but, by and large, the findings and the recommendations were what KABA wanted.   The Lakota Group pleased the paymaster.

Of course, I can be seen as biased where the theater project is concerned, and I don’t deny that but, when you look at the results of the surveys and the previous workshops, where the theater was the third  vote getter  in the “Kenosha Bucks” exercise  (you wouldn’t know it from the way the statistics were skewed in the presentation last night) and is constantly is brought up by the people participating,  you’d think the theatre didn’t exist in the presentation.  As I listened to the Lakota group speaker talk about the need for a business plan and the need to know about the market potential, I began to wonder if they ever got the huge packet of information that we dropped off at KABA that explained the business plan that was designed by the founder of  Cleveland’s Playhouse Square.  I wondered if they had ever seen the results of the market survey that the University of Wisconsin did that showed the restored theater would bring $7 to $10 million a year into the downtown alone through patrons spending on food and beverages alone.  So, I told the Lakota Group representative point blank that I thought that the study was window dressing and a validation for KABA to pursue their preconceived ideas with the illusion of an area “buy-in”.   After all, it is  a $150,00 contract for this consulting firm,  the results must “please the paymaster”.   He gave me a little song and dance and was completely flummoxed when I showed him the business plan and  the study results that I happened to bring to the meeting.  He  went and asked the lead consultant who told him that they were never given the information from KABA.  What does that say about the integrity of the study?  I can assume it was an innocent oversight by an overworked staff or a deliberate omission of relevant data that would skew things in a direction that weren’t in keeping with the desired findings.

A case in point about this “Corporate Headquarters” business in Kenosha.  Did you know that Dubuque, Iowa spent $56,000 per employee of taxpayer money as part of the incentive program to lure IBM into their downtown?  When I brought Dr. Ray Shepardson into meet with Todd Battle of KABA, We asked him point blank,  what he thought was the most important thing that could happen downtown and he said  ” We need to get a corporate headquarters downtown, I don’t see the theater as being that important to the development of downtown”.  Ray and I were stunned.   So far, the results of the survey validate my fears that this study is expensive “cover” for a conclusion that was known before the process began.   The theater project outperformed a “corporate headquarters” strategy at every turn, when asking the stakeholders and the involved communtiy.  But, for some reason, the “Core” of downtown was cut off at the block before the theater.

Please understand that I believe that many of the suggestions that actually came from the people involved are good ones, and where they fit into the preconceived agenda, they were mentioned and utilized in the plan.  But overall, and we’re not done yet, I give the presentation and the findings a HUGE “F”  There was NOTHING mentioned on strategy and who was going to follow through or PAY for this vision of things that don’t yet exist.  There is an almost masturbatory infatuation with the value of the property where the current city hall sits, but come on!  Is that where we need to begin?  Let’s begin with the stuff we have, not the stuff that KABA thinks we need because they are in their little bubble of business helping business for the sake of business.  What is good for a community is usually good for business. It doesn’t always work in reverse.   I would rather see a plan that holds the desires of the actual property owners, the people that had enough faith in the downtown to actually invest in, in more reverence.

The overall plan is destined for a drawer or ,  if city council attempts to follow through on the plan as it is now,  I know I and several others will be incredibly vocal on how this study process was flawed.   A look at the proposal in its current form was laughable.   Does Lou Perrine know that his gas station will be turned into housing?  The findings from the 1991 study showed up again putting housing along the railroad tracks North of 52nd street .  A water feature on the West side of the “Corporate Headquarters Crystal Extravaganza”  must not have been researched into the expensive environmental issues regarding that parcel.  The Lakota group must also not have been made aware of the history of the parcel.

I’m a big fan of the streetcar and its development. Especially because there is grant money available that can get $12 million dollars worth of expansion for $2 million.  I agree with trying to brand the city and find a way to tie the Metra station to the bus station.  These are low hanging fruit that can attract people to what we already have.   What we already have is pretty damn cool if you ask me.  This need to tear down the old and make way for the new is near insanity.  Our “brand” is our heritage. We raze it for the new “Vanilla City, USA ” at the peril of losing our identity.

I overheard an employee of a city department talking to a citizen that was venting their frustration with the process and the outcome so far.  The city employee, who shall not be named, said simply   “This is a KABA Study”  he/she  looked at the person and continued  “I needn’t say more.”   The implication is simple.  Even members of city departments know that the results are being steered.

So my take on this study is this,  Put it in a drawer and let’s organize the group of property owners downtown and figure out what we can do together.  Because  participating in KABA’s circus has been an exercise in futility and is just another outside consultant getting paid to validate someones preconceived notions.   We’ve had the “Illusion” of participation but, the findings so far miss the mark on so many levels it is almost embarrassing what  ludicrous , pie in the sky results that “Pleasing the Paymaster” have wrought.

And Oh yes, this is just the very beginning of me getting very vocal about what a sham the process has been so far.   I guess if I hadn’t met with KABA at the beginning , the results and the skewing wouldn’t have been so patently blatant.  Yes, I might make some enemies because I’m not “playing the game”.    To that I say  “My hometown’s future is not a game, I will not sit by while what in my opinion is essentially corruption goes forward with a pat on the back and a “Job well done”, while a lazy city council views the results as gospel.  They are not. They are tainted.   I even got the impression from the representative of the Lakota Group that he couldn’t say certain things that he thought.   That is the problem with “Pleasing the Paymaster.”

I can still be made to believe in the results.  But, they can’t be the results that we have now.  The renderings that were made earlier in the process and keep getting hauled out are bordering on ridiculous.  So, either the Lakota group actually takes their data and actually creates new renderings that reflect the data collected by the participants. They also need to to a lot more research on the history and the potential hazards and context of the parcels they seek to transform.

Someone must also say plainly,   “Who is going to pay for all of this?”   At a time when corporations are sitting on more capital than at any time in our nation’s history,  are taxpayers (who can least afford it)  going to be asked to foot the bill for the “Incentives” to bring a huge private entity  (that can most afford it) into an area?   Bullshit.

I know that I will take hits for this will be seen as sour grapes because the theater didn’t get included in the “core” of the projects that should be done.   I can answer that simply.   You bet it is.  When we gave KABA the market study and the business plan, we expected integrity and follow through.   There are several good people that work at KABA and they should not take my rantings personally.  Doing your job is simply that.  But, KABA, for all the good things that they have done,  has overstepped their  position as the “paymaster”

We’ve all heard the story of the hired property appraiser nudging the property owner and asking  “So what price do you want it to  come in at?”    While Lakota group may not have intentionally done it, the pressure from the people with the paycheck has shown through.

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Officially 29 Years

On July 11, it will be 29 years since our partnership undertook the Kenosha Theatre project.  So far, we have failed to see the project to fruition.  We have had many successes.  After years of hard work to renovate the apartment structure so the building can support itself and remain viable, volunteer attorneys and real estate professionals drew up a long term lease that allowed the not-for-profit organization that was created to pursue the Community development block grants (CDBG) funding that did a market study, structural analysis  and entire roof replacement, ( the execution of which actually did the most interior plaster damage) .

We’ve gained the attention  and have become close friends with the country’s foremost theater restoration specialist, who has designed a realistic business model.  And we’ve been fortunate to have the lead architect and project manager of the Genesee Theatre restoration  create drawings for the Kenosha Theatre   It would have been a dream come true to actually get the money to restore the building  but, it just hasn’t happened.  There have always been internal or external forces that  kept the prize out of reach.  The closing of Chrysler in the late 80’s put the project in mothballs for nearly 20 years as our city rebounded with the industrial parks and lakefront development. Meanwhile, the members of the partnership and volunteer group pursued careers and raised their families.  It would have been a luxury to be able to live and breathe the theatre restoration but,  as John Lennon said, “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”.

Today, we feel the community is actually ready for the project and we’ve got to seriously step up the  work to find the funding.  Armed with a new market survey done by the University of Wisconsin, we can demonstrate what an economic engine the theatre can be.  The pieces have finally fallen into place where the project and the timing make economic sense.  But, we really need to cultivate more informed leaders in the business and government sector.  To do that, we need more volunteers in fund raising and public relations.  The timing of the downtown study is important. We’ve already seen that the citizens are open to the idea but, funding a large scale project is always a challenge.  We can only be as active and as vocal as the time allowed by our volunteers.  The more active volunteers, the louder the “squeaky wheel” becomes.

We’re finishing up our most updated proposals this week and need to present them to local government and corporate leaders. It always helps if the proposal comes from someone known and trusted.  If you feel that you would be a good ambassador for the project to any business leaders in the area,  we’d love to take you on a tour and explain the vision in detail.  It’s been a long time coming.   Government leaders would be much less skeptical if we can get a deeper commitment of the business community.  The same is also true in reverse.  Our problem has always been one of economics.  We really need a committed local business leader that carries some financial weight to bless the project or take enough interest in the project to forward its credibility.   Right now there is a group of committed  volunteers that can paint and sweep and generally take care of the building with volunteer time but, doesn’t have the financial capacity to make sweeping changes.

If you study, like we have,  the paths that all of the successful downtown revitalization projects have taken, you will see that there is generally a large entertainment and arts component as part of the mix.  In nearly every case, there has been at least one wealthy individual that has stepped up to the plate and demonstrated to others that the project was something  worth believing in.  Once that occurs, the snowball effect happens and the project becomes a reality.

There are always those saying  “you should”  do this or “you should” do that.  We’ve been “shoulded” to death by people who claim to know what  we “should” be doing but, have never come to a meeting to demonstrate or deliver.  We need to remain positive and realize that this phenomenon is simply the natural background noise that any project generates when proposing change.  Fear is a commodity used by the naysayers. If we knew exactly what we “should” be doing, we’d have done it long ago.   Every project’s  time table is unique and organic.  The Kenosha Theatre restoration will be done on Kenosha’s time table. .

Please email jeffbaas@mac.com if you think you can help us get the word out to a community heavy weight.  We’ll really appreciate any help we can get.  If you want to tell us what we “should” do,  please take the time and come to a meeting and tell us.

Thanks,

Jeff

President of the Kenosha Theatre Restoration Project

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The Heritage House

The Heritage House as it stands today

I read about the 120 day “reprieve” the Heritage House was granted to try and find a knight in shining armor to swoop in and save it.  I also read that the current owner, or executor of the deceased owner’s estate,  essentially wants to see it razed.  Not much you can do when the owner wants it gone.  The fact that it is in the shape that it is in is the responsibility of the owner. It’s a sad state of affairs for Kenosha’s architectural heritage.

I walked downtown today and talked to some local business owners and received mixed reviews.  One person said,  “Why swoop in at the 11th hour and try to save that piece of junk?”.  Another thought it was “Too far gone”.   I disagree. No architectural Icon is too far gone until it is gone.   The same article says the mayor wants to see it torn down and that KABA has put up $400,000 to pay for the building being razed.  We are told that we are playing “Russian roulette”  because the KABA money might dry up soon.  I simply ask why?  Why is the decision to pay for it or not on a timetable? Who at KABA is making that decision and why are they dangling it like some wrecking ball carrot on a stick?  What would happen if KABA rescinded the offer?  Would the building still be razed with taxpayer funds?   I am always amazed at the false urgency that is created and a little curious to the underlying reasons for the hurry.   In this case, if the owner wants it gone, there really isn’t much anyone can do and Kenosha takes another step toward “Vanilla City, Usa”.  I’ll lament the loss but,  I respect property rights.

So let’s tell potential tourists to “Come to Kenosha and visit our Walmart”. ” Come to Kenosha and dine at McDonald’s or eat at Culver’s “.  “Take your entertainment money and come to Kenosha and go to the tinsletown mega-plex.”  “Stay a couple of days and shop at our Target or Sears or JC Penney.”   What’s that you say?  You can do that in just about any city in the country?

I remember when you could have a drink at the big bar off of the huge Ball room at the Elk’s club. Or, when downtown business groups would have lunch meetings in the dining room.  I was in a wedding band that played the downstairs hall and the Ballroom.  I have memories of the lake breeze blowing as I stood out on the porch supported by the huge columns and looked down at the street below.  It is a grand old structure that isn’t found anywhere else but Kenosha.  The rush to tear down our architectural history; our venerable icons was summed up by a member of the landmarks commission of all people:  “let’s face it, it’s all about the money.”  If  I EVER agree with tearing down our history; our brand,  our defining  heritage that makes us unique from any city on the planet. If I EVER  value money enough so that it becomes the single driving force toward demolishing a building before there is a plan in place to replace it with something as valuable and worthy, then just shoot me in the fucking head because I have lost my sense of value and have succumbed to the cancer on the American soul.

You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.  It isn’t always about the money.

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The Final Survey for the Downtown Study

Please go take the Survey!!  The Grand Kenosha Theater NEEDS your support!!

I may have been out of town working and missed the launch announcement of the second installment of the online Downtown Survey. I’m surprised I didn’t see more marketing toward getting this done. I heard about it at a Kenosha Theatre Board meeting. One member took it about a week and a half ago.
I don’t know how long it has been up and how long they intend to keep it active but, the it is certain that the time is waning and there hasn’t been much activity on the social networks about it. I’m surprised.

Lately there was a voice of the people article that tried to indicate that we were up to some nefarious misinformation, which is untrue , of course. Somehow, my involvement in the theatre project is “undisclosed”. Really? I’ve only been quoted in the paper, been at Kenosha Expo’s and created video content explaining what we’ve been trying to do for the last 30 years. We’ve worked with attorneys and real estate professionals to put together a lease for the not-for-profit corporation that has been working with the theatre since the beginning of our involvement. We haven’t sought private funding because we need a public “buy-in”. Once the City says they want to do the project, we’ll be able to put together a public/private funding package that is similar to those in community after community. Bonding issues don’t have to fall on the taxpayers. Especially a project like the Kenosha Theatre that will create jobs and generate enough revenue and tax base increases in the area to offset any debt service for the bonding. People say our plan is “ambitious”. Well duh!!! of course it is ambitious! Anytime you build a major infrastructure to improve a community’s quality of life through the enhancement of entertainment and the arts, it is ambitious. If you don’t have the ambition and political will to do it, why in the hell would you take it on?
In life, you can sit idly by and list all of the reasons why you should sit in your chair and let the cable TV wash over you instead of getting off of your ass and going out and living life and doing something! You can look at how bad things are and ask “why?” or you can dream about how good things can be and say “why not?”
If money were my motivating force, The Kenosha Theatre project certainly isn’t the “get rich quick” scheme I would have chosen. If you choose to think the worst in people, it says more about you than the target of your disdain. I choose to associate myself with positive people that laugh, live life and work together to get things done for our community. I wouldn’t want to live my life any other way. The amount of money I need seems to keep coming in because I keep doing things that I believe in. I don’t need much……. with the exception of maybe a $30 Million lottery win that I can donate to get the Kenosha Theatre restored.

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Business Journal Reporter Conversation

I just spoke with the writer for the Business Journal that is doing a story about the Kenosha Theatre project.  He’s been interviewing a lot of people about the theatre. In our conversation I asked him if he had talked to the mayor and he said that he had.  So,  I asked him what his impressions were; jounalistically speaking of course.  He told me that the mayor said that the city would possibly “fill a gap” in funding if we were able to raise the rest of the funding ourselves.  Without cooperation from city government, it is nearly impossible for us to get the players on board that could help fund the project. Looking at other successful communities, it is easy enough to see that every city has a unique solution to the expensive proposition of creating a large scale entertainment complex.  The common ingredient is political will.

The reporter told me that the mayor is now interested in a more “multi-purpose” type building in the downtown rather than the theatre.  Something like an arena.  Here we go again.  What would be the anchor use that pays for an arena?  We’ve tried non-major league baseball.  Didn’t work.  Non- major league Hockey?  Nothing against hockey, but is there a market study showing that hockey would put $7 to 10 million into the economy by drawing from the north and south?  If there is one, I haven’t heard about it.  We have one for the theatre.  We used the incredible resource of the University of Wisconsin System to get our study done.

Anyway, I’m not angry.  It’s what I expected.  It is frustrating.  All the theatre project really needs is our leadership to have the political will to say, “we want to do this”.  Maybe a Mayoral Task Force that examines possible funding scenarios could be formed that includes members of the various business, arts, finance and educational communities.   Getting the area leadership together to try to find a solution to funding the restoration of a landmark, economic opportunity shouldn’t be a monumental task.   Since John Antaramian left office, we have seen no proactive activity on the theatre project.   Mayor Antaramian , used to bring developers through the building, seeking interest.  We knew then that the project was on his radar.  That was years ago.  Now, nothing.

There’s the old saying  ” You can’t fight city hall”.   Maybe we can enlighten them.  The term “fight” sets the wrong tone.  I know everyone means well. Just like the board of directors that fired Steve Jobs in the late 80’s meant well.  You have to educate 20th century thinkers about the new opportunities and the new economies of the 21st century.

I’ve also been asking questions about this corporate headquarters relocation into downtown story I’ve been hearing about.  Without doing a lot of investigation about which possible corporation would move their headquarters here, I’ll just guess it is Jockey. They’re in an old factory that doesn’t manufacture here anymore. That work has been sent to other countries.  A new shiny building would be nice. Especially if they can get the city to “externalize” some of the costs of moving.  A study that shows that a new corporate headquarters would have a positive impact on the downtown economy would be a great way to gain the acceptance of our leaders to spend taxpayer dollars to do the infrastructure work needed for a private company to move into downtown.  Externalizing costs is what good corporations do.  Taxpayers paying for the infrastructure  work to move is always better than the company paying for it.  But, try to get the same help if your a small business person.  I’ve talked to some that said they felt they were  treated like criminals for wanting to open a business in downtown.  Of course, that was then, this is now.  I can always keep hoping and I can always keep making noise.  From years of observation, money definitely talks.

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Theatre Ads to be added soon

Bill Boettcher finished a 7 year labor of love and has now scanned every ad that ever ran for the Kenosha theatre. I’ve uploaded them and we’re going to figure out a way to  make them searchable. But, here is the link to the folder of raw images

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Explaining the Kenosha Theatre Restoration


 

After years of trying to explain the theatre project to local politicians and private citizens, I realized that most people just aren’t as interested in historic preservation and economic development as the people that I hang out with.  I suppose that’s because we all choose to develop friendships with like minded people.  I see it every time I go to a local event. The same people are at these events.

Hell, I don’t get to as many meetings and fund raisers as I would like because I keep my self busy with the theater or Kenosha Community Media, or my home life with my son.  But, when I do get out, it’s the same crew.  I don’t have to explain the theatre project to them. I’d be preaching to the choir.

So, I created this video to explain in plain and simple common sense, why the theater is a great investment for Kenosha.  All along we’ve been trying to get the project funded by a public/private arrangement so as to eliminate the risk to taxpayers.  All along, the project has been about restoration of a building to generate the same vitality that it did when it was in use nearly a half century ago.

This time, I’m going to use this video to pressure local officials to at least get on board with the concept.  How hard is it to say ” I support the Kenosha Theatre restoration.”  The problem (and it is always the problem with local officials), is how the project gets funded. There is always the fear; always the mental reflex to follow those words of support with the word “but” followed by the lamenting of the project price tag and all of the other priorities the city has.  Well, after years of dealing with the reaction.  I’ve decided I’m just going to point it out as a failure of vision.  That failure of vision is also the reason we will lose the competition for new business relocation of any major significance. That failure of vision is why we’ll lose in the market place of “quality of life” when compared to other communities that have realized that arts and culture are a tangible economic force to be reckoned with and one of the top five reasons that a city is chosen for corporate site locations.

I know there are a lot of people that understand what I’m saying.  I have some that say that I’m angry, when I’m not.  I’m just more determined than before.  The old saying:  “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”  did not spring from a vacuum.  It works.  I am hoping to create a small army of informed squeaky wheels.  All of them letting their elected officials know that the time for the Kenosha Theater restoration is upon us.  Not simply for the great reasons of historic preservation and the boost to the downtown economy.  Those are just the initial benefits that a theater restoration would bring about.  The more enduring impact will be on the perception of the city as one that values arts and culture; values that are a requirement for cities populated by educated professionals.

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