A retired VenuWorks executive who served as interim director of the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts said he was going to evaluate operations and look at whether the city should renovate the Creativity Center building that is also part of the downtown Cultural District. But there are no reports or recommendations on paper.
The contract required reports, work papers, and correspondence be turned over by mutually agreed upon deadlines, but city of Bloomington spokesperson Nora Dukowitz said recommendations must have been made verbally to then-City Manager David Hales. Hales is now Joliet's city manager and did not reply to GLT's request to answer questions.
VenuWorks received nearly $47,000 for the six-month contract (April-September) with most of the money going to retired VenuWorks executive Carl St. Clair, who also received $3,000 for RV rental space. St. Clair did not respond to a request for an interview at the end of his contract, and he has not responded to a request to answer questions concerning work completed under his contract with the city.
VenuWorks Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Tim Sullivan did not return a phone call and email seeking clarification about expectations for work to be performed under the contract.
When St. Clair was hired, Hales indicated in an interview with GLT that he hoped St. Clair would have recommendations about improving operations and reducing a projected $500,000 deficit in addition to helping fill a schedule that at that time did not have any signed acts following the sudden death of BCPA Director Tina Salamone.
One month into his contract, GLT interviewed St. Clair, who declared his initial review indicated the BCPA was underutilized, something Mayor Tari Renner said was an obvious observation.
"I came to that (conclusion) by my first 25-minute tour of the building," Renner said. "I don’t think that’s a terribly remarkable conclusion. I think we all know that."
Renner said he thought St. Clair was going to handle booking shows and other administrative duties.
“I don’t know what he did administratively. From the standpoint of policy, he may have given Mr. Hales quite a bit of information that convinced Mr. Hales to recommend that we should at least have a council vote to essentially decide whether or not to privatize BCPA operations to VenuWorks."
VenuWorks also operates the Grossinger Motors Arena in downtown Bloomington. The city council last month unanimously decided against hiring VenuWorks to manage the BCPA too.
When asked why Bloomington hired St. Clair rather than having Assistant Performing Arts Manager Ann-Marie Dittmann serve as interim director, Renner said he doesn’t have the answer because some city council members saw it as an affront to question Hales’ hiring decisions because hiring is at the discretion of the city manager.
“At the end of the day I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask the kinds of questions you’re asking regardless of whether you're the media or the public or the city council,” Renner said.
The city is still faced with finding a long-term solution for management of the city’s cultural arts activities, including whether to move ahead with city investment in the Creativity Center north of the BCPA. The Creativity Center is used by arts groups but has significant problems, including the need for a new roof and heating and air-conditioning system.
The Friends of the BCPA raised $1 million in private investment toward a $5.2 million renovation plan created in 2011. It suggested a mixed-use building including a black box theater, classrooms for fine arts instruction, dance studios, music practice rooms, recording studio and more.
“The quality-of-life things that some people just don’t understand are not just good for the community’s quality of life and gives us more things to do, it also adds a strong economic benefit for our community on many different levels and that’s part of what the BN Advantage is all about,” Renner said.
“One of their main goals is to improve the quality of life in our community and at least as long as I’m mayor, improving the quality of life in the community is a very, very important thing," he added.
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