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Good News for the Arts. A Possible PID.

by Jerome Weeks 8 May 2012 10:24 AM

That’s ‘public improvement district.’ And in this case, if it happens, that ‘district’ includes ‘cultural tourism.’


Last year, in the midst of a lot of talk about whether the still-abuilding City Performance Hall would actually be any good (or even affordable) for small-to-midsize performance groups, I pointed out that it’s not the hall or the management of it, it’s the city funding that’s the huge, looming issue:

The news this week about the city’s proposed budget plan should have made it plain to anyone who can read: Cultural services contracts will be funded at 75 percent of the current year’s budget level and 20 percent of program-related expenses at five cultural centers will be  cut — as well as 50 percent of funding for the maintenance and repair of fourteen city-owned facilities and 25 percent of the cultural services contracts to arts organizations.

Programming and service contracts are certainly taking a hit, but facility maintenance is being cut in half, and that’s the day-to-day, keeping-the-place-from-falling-apart stuff: trash piling up, not mowing lawns, broken doors being left broken. That’s very telling. What’s more, all these cuts are based on current budget levels — which already are brutally lower from cutbacks over the past several years.

In short, in typical Dallas fashion (remember Fair Park), we put up the big, beautiful buildings and cheap-out on staffing them, booking them, even just maintaining them.

The solution I suggested was one that had been percolating for awhile and which Arts District executive director Veletta Lill has expressly advocated. Remove at least some of our cultural center funding from the highly politicized, cut-the-budget city council pressures and do what many other cities do: Create a PID (public improvement district — to help underwrite landscaping, lighting, signage, whatever) and fund it directly with part of the hotel/motel tax from places like the Omni Hotel (above).

This arts facility PID would be unusual in that most PIDs are geographically localized — Uptown has a PID, for instance. Grand Prairie is considered a state leader in using them for many residential neighborhoods. But a ‘non-geographic’ PID is not unheard-of.

Unfortunately for the typically disorganized, uncoordinated arts community, the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau was also pushing for that hotel/motel tax. And they’re the ones who got it — to help publicize Dallas as a tourism/convention destination.

But now comes word from Theater Jones this morning.

An agreement has been reached between Lill and Phillip Jones, president of the DCVB, that a portion of the $3 million to be spent on promoting the city will be spent on “promoting cultural tourism.” Emily Trube reports:

In addition, if the Tourism PID is approved, the agreement calls for:

  • The DCVB to hire a cultural tourism manager within 60 days;
  • Representatives from the cultural tourism community will be asked to participated in developing the messaging included in the of the advertising campaign; and
  • DCVB will consider using a sub-agency that specializes in cultural tourism.

“The arts community is pleased to see the Tourism Public Improvement District move forward,” says Lill. “A part of the DCVB’s marketing effort includes the establishment of a cultural tourism program that spotlights our diverse arts and cultural scene. We feel that is a strong part of the true identity of Dallas and we are eager to tell our stories.”

Admittedly, this is not the kind of PID I envisaged, something that would actually help keep the lights on and the bathrooms functioning. But it is an advance for Dallas (at least the hotel and motel owners) to sell culture as much a part of the ‘Dallas brand’ as the typical Texas trappings of boots and hats and blondes and BBQ and glittery skyscrapers.

It acknowledges that if downtown is going to work, the Arts District has got to fulfill its promise as a real center for the city.