Tonight, the Parks and Recreation Commission unanimously passed a resolution opposing the city’s plans to purchase the Park Theater and lease it back to a private dance studio for 50 years. The commission cited the lack of public benefit from the project; the need to fully fund higher priority capital projects such renovating Burgess Gym and Rec Center; and opposition to subsidizing a private business to duplicate programs already offered by the city.
When commission chairperson, Paula Maurano tried to deliver the findings to the city council during the time allocated for council reports at tonight’s city council meeting, Mayor Fergusson cut her off mid-report and refused to allow her to read the remaining findings, suggesting that Ms Maurano should “come talk with her off-line.”
Councilmember Robinson, a former Parks and Recreation commissioner, claimed that the Parks and Recreation commission did not have jurisdiction over the proposed private dance studio despite being the commission charged with overseeing the city’s dance and performing arts programs. Councilmember Cline said that the opposition to the Park Theater was political gamesmanship and stated that “the process is going through.”
The Mayor and Councilmember Robinson both stated that the $2.2M being spent on the Park Theater \"will not impact the funds available for any other city programs.\" Furthermore, Councilmember Robinson stated that “like many other members of the community,” Ms Maurano, a Certified Public Accountant, “does not understand the difference between the capital we might spend on the Park Theater and the operating capital we have available to spend on other programs.”
Contradicting Councilmember Robinson and Fergusson’s statements are earlier staff reports stating that the money for the Park Theater would come from the city’s general operating fund reserve, the same source that was used to fund the MA Performing Arts Center, police pensions, and operating shortfalls in most city programs. It is also the same fund that has been recently boosted by revenues from the unpopular Utility Users Tax (UUT).
Councilmember Boyle was the only Councilmember who voiced support for hearing the Parks and Recreation Commission report on the Park Theater. Councilmember Cohen remained silent during the entire discussion.