Elgin council set to OK rent agreement with ESO
By Mike Danahey firstname.lastname@example.org @DanaheyECN on Twitter September 9, 2013 3:38PM
Updated: October 11, 2013 6:16AM
ELGIN — While Wednesday’s city council meeting most likely won’t be the day the music died for the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, it should offer some key notes concerning how the beat goes on for the renowned musical organization.
What’s on the score this week is fine tuning and finalizing a late-July proposal — to which the council already gave tacit approval — that would have the orchestra go to the city’s Cultural Arts Commission every year to seek funding. The ESO would be required to pay more of what it owes in back rent for the Hemmens Cultural Center under the terms of a 15-year agreement. The symphony also would pay its rent going forward but at a 50 percent volume-user discount.
City Manager Sean Stegall previously noted that debt was reduced to $244,000 from $304,000, reflecting a retroactive break on the rent rate. The 15-year payback term is what the city believes the organization can afford while still working to become financially solvent.
Mayor David Kaptain said Monday that he had not yet seen details of the agreement under consideration. He expected it will include a cap of some sort on what the symphony could be allocated from the commission. The money doled out by the CAC comes from the city’s take of Grand Victoria Casino revenues and currently stands at a pool of $130,000 to $140,000, Kaptain said.
Kaptain said the CAC money is earmarked to go for specific arts-related events that groups have, meaning specific performances or productions or gallery shows. In the case of the symphony, Kaptain said there has been talk about using any money for community outreach work such as bringing the symphony into Elgin schools.
Orchestra CEO David Bearden could not be reached for comment Monday.
Councilman Terry Gavin said Monday that he wanted clarification on whether the cap would be $8,500 as it currently is for arts groups, of if that amount will be more.
Gavin, along with Councilmen Toby Shaw and John Prigge, were the three no votes for moving along the July proposal. Gavin said he intends to vote no again. “But this is getting closer to what I would support,” he said.
His primary objection remains the 15-year repayment period, “and it has been from Day One,” Gavin said.
The debt has been building since May 2011, which was the last time the city made any direct financial contribution to the ESO and the last time any rent payments were received. Despite his main misgiving, Gavin said he wants the symphony to stay in Elgin and prosper in the city, and that his vote should not be seen as punitive.
“We need them, and they need us,” Gavin said. At the same time, he said, he is concerned about taxpayer money being used to subsidize the symphony.
Both Gavin and Kaptain said they had yet to see the details of another Hemmens-related matter on the Wednesday agenda — the rates and fees charged those using the facility.
While the symphony probably would receive a big break on its rent, Kaptain noted that it is the most frequent user of the building, and that a volume discount would be in line with what other facilities do. Gavin said he would be flexible when looking at the rates charged the symphony and other groups that use the facility.