He has called what amounts to an emergency meeting of the council for Monday to explore any and all options for Theatre in the Square, The Earl Smith Strand Theater, the Marietta Museum of History and the other arts/historical/cultural entities that do so much to give downtown its distinctive flavor.
“We’ve heard a lot of rhetoric and a lot of talking,” he said. “What we’re going to do Monday is talk about it as a council, not as a town hall meeting, and we’re asking the downtown eleemosynary organizations to come and tell us how the city can help. Everything from the Georgia Ballet to the theaters to our four museums. We’re going to look at every possible financial thing we can.”
(Around Town confesses that it had to look up how to spell “eleemosynary” and what the word meant — “of, relating to, or supported by charity,” according to Merriam-Webster.)
One possibility might be to give those groups a bigger share of the city’s hotel/motel and car-rental taxes, revenues from both of which have plunged during the economic swoon.
“They’ve taken a good lickin’,” the mayor said.
The city first funnels those funds through the Marietta Welcome Center, its Designated Marketing Organization.
“I’m not scared to look at it,” he said. “We can’t give (the groups) a direct donation, but we can give it through the DMO. It’s a passion for me to figure out what the answer is. We can’t just write a check and throw a lot of money at it. We’re all going to have to just roll up our sleeves and look at it a different way.”
He said the DMDA needs to change its focus.
“At that last DMDA meeting it looked like they were mostly interested in brick and mortar things,” he said. “Personally, and I hope the Council, and the whole city, wants to look at the intangibles. We’re not going to need a parking deck, and we’re not going to need a ‘railroad quiet zone’ if we lose two theaters and four restaurants downtown. And they define our city.”
“We have to be the catalyst to help them survive. I don’t have the answer yet, but I would hope we would spend probably the next couple years doing as much as we can toward the intangibles, the support aspect, as opposed to the brick and mortar.”
“One suggestion I’d like to throw out to them is maybe quit using so much high-priced space for storage and move that part of their operation into something cheaper,” he said. “Keep the stage, the theater, but move their offices and supplies and everything else off-campus.”
And he has a destination in mind — the financially precarious Marietta Museum of History a half-block away in the antebellum Kennesaw House. The Museum signed a triple-net lease with the Downtown Marietta Development Authority to take over all three floors of the Kennesaw House in late 2010 and has been struggling ever since. It also has seen its funding from the City Council slashed to the bare bone over the past two years, along with an unprecedented level of animosity toward the museum from some members of the Council and DMDA during that period.
Tumlin says moving the backstage aspects of the theater to unused or underused parts of the museum building, and subleasing it from the Museum’s Dan Cox at a lower rate than it is now paying to Goldstein for its existing space, would help the bottom lines of both the theater and the museum.
The Welcome Center opens onto Atherton Square, which is to be the subject of a $300,000 DOT grant for renovations.
“It’s one of our least-known assets,” he told Around Town. “If we can make that place much better, it might open the door for something else.”
“I’m not saying the Welcome Center ought to move, but if we can save organizations by pulling people together and having fewer management people and fewer gift shops … we could equitably divide the thing and still let them do their mission, but there are some things we could do,” he said.
Another idea he has is to knock a hole in the wall separating the History Museum and the adjacent Gone With the Wind Museum to make them more attractive to each other’s visitors.
The bottom line, he argued, was that the various entities at risk will find a better outcome by sticking together and doing away with “business as usual.”
“As my father taught me, it’s harder to break a bundle of sticks than it is to break just one,” he said.
WE HEAR THE FOLKS at Cobb EMC have been enjoying some time out of the headlines, but with the last round of director elections set for March 31, that time is just about over for a while.
Six seats on the 10-member board are up for election and 30 candidates have signed up so far to seek various seats. (Qualifying ends March 2). Directors must live in the geographical area they represent, but all members may vote for all seats.
The Cobb EMC Owners Association (CEOA), a nonprofit group that grew out of the plaintiffs group that sued the electric membership cooperative in 2007, will hold vetting meetings in early March to endorse candidates for each seat. All four of the candidates it endorsed last fall ultimately won seats on the board.
In Area Three, it’s believed popular former Cobb Sheriff Bill Hutson will prevail over Kelly Bodner, though it’s a matchup between two very strong candidates. Bodner teaches science at Russell Elementary in Smyrna and was named the 2012 Georgia Elementary Science Teacher of the Year by the Georgia Science Teachers Association.
In Area Two, 1970s-vintage Cobb Commissioner and current WellStar Trustee Charlie Jones seems likely to win over Rudy Underwood, a lobbyist for the Georgia Chemistry Council. Both are expected to get the endorsement of the CEOA.
This week’s story on plaintiff Tripper Sharp’s candidacy in Area 5 — which is crowded with 10 candidates and thus likely to go to a runoff — drew a lot of heated reaction. There are doubts that he’ll get the CEOA endorsement, with fellow plaintiff Butch Thompson being so adamantly against Sharp’s candidacy. Others running in that area are: Delon W. Barfuss, Scott Chadwick, Vern Krawagna, John Ernst Jr., John Berry, James H. (Jim) Brown, Michael (Mike) Rudolph, Charles Sevier and John Wallace.
None of the incumbents are running for any of the seats open March 31, which means that when the dust settles all 10 seats will be held by new members. The last two holdouts, incumbents Kay Anderson and Johnny Gresham, apparently realizing their fate was sealed, announced Feb. 15 that they would not seek reelection.
We hear if they had tried to stand for reelection, another lawsuit — going after their lush EMC retirement benefits worth a total of $211,000 — would have landed on the court docket post-haste. That practice was ended for directors seated in 2010 and thereafter, but was grandfathered in for the others, including David Herndon, David McGinnis, Sarah Brown, Larry Chadwick, Don Barnett, Al Fortney and Henry Balkcom III.