Fort Worth arts funding task force zeroes in on gas well money, hotel tax

Posted Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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FORT WORTH -- Fort Worth's arts funding task force zeroed in on gas well revenues and the hotel tax Thursday as potential sources for arts grants that have been pared in the city's tight budgets.

Task force members, noting that the city's Will Rogers Memorial Center parking fees have hurt museums in the area, also asked city staff members for information on whether it was possible for the city to reduce that impact.

Last fall, the city struck a deal with the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History to rent it a parking lot and let it set its own rates and keep the money.

Staff members also suggested that the committee could consider proposing a challenge grant connected to receiving gas well revenues. But several task force members were cool to the idea.

"I think we need to challenge the city first," said Lori Thomson, a task force member and co-owner of the Firehouse Pottery and Gallery in Fort Worth. She characterized this year's $799,691 city allocation for grants funding to the Arts Council of Fort Worth & Tarrant County as "such a small amount" compared with the $583 million general fund budget.

Fort Worth investor and benefactor Robert Bass, another task force member, worried about the continued "crowding out" of the arts from the city's budget. City funding to the Arts Council has fallen from a $1.3 million peak in 2010 and was cut by $266,564 in the 2013 budget.

Greg Ibanez -- a task force member, architect and a Fort Worth Art Commission member -- said a challenge grant would only serve to "divide the pie" differently.

Staff members told the task force that the city's gas well revenues are a potential viable source they could consider. The city is in the process of moving $6.7 million of unencumbered gas revenues into a trust fund designed to throw off interest that could be spent in the future.

The money must be used for capital outlays under current City Council policy, but the council is free to change that policy, Susan Alanis, assistant city manager, told the task force.

Bass suggested that the gas revenues continue to go to capital needs, which would "free up other funds for the arts."

Johnny Campbell, president of Sundance Square and a task force member, told the task force that the challenge grant idea raised by Alanis should be "fully considered."

Task force members have been examining the city's culture and tourism fund, budgeted at $33.4 million in 2013 revenue and funded in part by the hotel tax, as a potential landing spot for arts funding. Arts grants were in the fund until 2010, when the council moved it into the general operations fund. The culture and tourism fund is now focused on the Will Rogers Memorial Center, the Fort Worth Convention Center and the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau.

City officials estimate that Will Rogers and the Convention Center have an estimated $26.3 million in capital needs over the next five years, and those funds must come from the culture and tourism fund, which also shoulders debt service on the Convention Center, operations for public events, facility maintenance and the convention bureau.

"That fund is upside-down today, and it's probably more upside-down than it looks," given the fact that the facilities' utility bills come from the general fund, Campbell said.City public events director Kirk Slaughter, who manages the culture and tourism fund, said the city badly needs to make improvements to Will Rogers to draw more horse shows and keep it competitive with facilities in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The Convention Center's old north section, often used by conventions, needs a makeover, too, he said.

The state Republican Party held meetings at the center last summer and has re-upped for 2014, although it was reluctant because of the aging facility, Slaughter said.

The city is budgeted this year to receive $20 million from the 9 percent hotel tax. Two points of that goes to pay down Convention Center expansion debt, leaving $15 million. The city is considering setting aside 5 percent in the future to pay for capital improvements.

Staff members told the task force that the hotel tax is a viable revenue source for arts grant funding, so long as the council finds that those grants help generate hotel stays.

"We do think there are some that fall under that category, and then it's a prioritization for the council," Alanis told the task force.

Mayor Betsy Price, who formed the task force to seek alternative funding for the arts and Fort Worth Sister Cities, whose city allocation was eliminated this year, said in an interview this week that she is "not real comfortable [culture and tourism is] a very stable fund for the arts.

"It's just like the general fund," she said. "It has its ups and downs. Not everything in it is eligible to be used [for arts grants].

Scott Nishimura,

817-390-7808

Twitter: @JScottNishimura

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