Letters 10-24-2016

It’s Obama’s 1984 Several editions ago I concluded a short letter to the editor with an ominous rhetorical flourish: “Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984 and the grand opening of the Federal Department of Truth!” At the time I am sure most of the readers laughed off my comments as right-wing hyperbole. Shame on you for doubting me...

Gun Bans Don’t Work It is said that mass violence only happens in the USA. A lone gunman in a rubber boat, drifted ashore at a popular resort in Tunisia and randomly shot and killed 38 mostly British and Irish tourists. Tunisian gun laws, which are among the most restrictive in the world, didn’t stop this mass slaughter. And in January 2015, two armed men killed 11 and wounded 11 others in an attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. French gun laws didn’t stop these assassins...

Scripps’ Good Deed No good deed shall go unpunished! When Dan Scripps was the 101st District State Representative, he introduced legislation to prevent corporations from contaminating (e.g. fracking) or depleting (e.g. Nestle) Michigan’s water table for corporate profit. There are no property lines in the water table, and many of us depend on private wells for abundant, safe, clean water. In the subsequent election, Dan’s opponents ran a negative campaign almost solely on the misrepresentation that Dan’s good deed was a government takeover of your private water well...

Political Definitions As the time to vote draws near it’s a good time to check into what you stand for. According to Dictionary.com the meanings for liberal and conservative are as follows:

Liberal: Favorable to progress or reform as in political or religious affairs.

Conservative: Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditions and limit change...

Voting Takes A Month? Hurricane Matthew hit the Florida coast Oct. 6, over three weeks before Election Day. Bob Ross (Oct. 17th issue) posits that perhaps evacuation orders from Governor Scott may have had political motivations to diminish turnout and seems to praise Hillary Clinton’s call for Gov. Scott to extend Florida’s voter registration deadline due to evacuations...

Clinton Foundation Facts Does the Clinton Foundation really spend a mere 10 percent (per Mike Pence) or 20 percent (per Reince Priebus) of its money on charity? Not true. Charity Watch gives it an A rating (the same as it gives the NRA Foundation) and says it spends 88 percent on charitable causes, and 12 percent on overhead. Here is the source of the misunderstanding: The Foundation does give only a small percentage of its money to charitable organizations, but it spends far more money directly running a number of programs...

America Needs Change Trump supports our constitution, will appoint judges that will keep our freedoms safe. He supports the partial-birth ban; Hillary voted against it. Regardless of how you feel about Trump, critical issues are at stake. Trump will increase national security, monitor refugee admissions, endorse our vital military forces while fighting ISIS. Vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence will be an intelligent asset for the country. Hillary wants open borders, increased government regulation, and more demilitarization at a time when we need strong military defenses...

My Process For No I will be voting “no” on Prop 3 because I am supportive of the process that is in place to review and approve developments. I was on the Traverse City Planning Commission in the 1990s and gained an appreciation for all of the work that goes into a review. The staff reviews the project and makes a recommendation. The developer then makes a presentation, and fellow commissioners and the public can ask questions and make comments. By the end of the process, I knew how to vote for a project, up or down. This process then repeats itself at the City Commission...

Regarding Your Postcard If you received a “Vote No” postcard from StandUp TC, don’t believe their lies. Prop 3 is not illegal. It won’t cost city taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal bills or special elections. Prop 3 is about protecting our downtown -- not Munson, NMC or the Commons -- from a future of ugly skyscrapers that will diminish the very character of our downtown...

Vote Yes It has been suggested that a recall or re-election of current city staff and Traverse City Commission would work better than Prop 3. I disagree. A recall campaign is the most divisive, costly type of election possible. Prop 3, when passed, will allow all city residents an opportunity to vote on any proposed development over 60 feet tall at no cost to the taxpayer...

Yes Vote Explained A “yes” vote on Prop 3 will give Traverse City the right to vote on developments over 60 feet high. It doesn’t require votes on every future building, as incorrectly stated by a previous letter writer. If referendums are held during general elections, taxpayers pay nothing...

Beware Trump When the country you love have have served for 33 years is threatened, you have an obligation and a duty to speak out. Now is the time for all Americans to speak out against a possible Donald Trump presidency. During the past year Trump has been exposed as a pathological liar, a demagogue and a person who is totally unfit to assume the presidency of our already great country...

Picture Worth 1,000 Words Nobody disagrees with the need for affordable housing or that a certain level of density is dollar smart for TC. The issue is the proposed solution. If you haven’t already seen the architect’s rendition for the site, please Google “Pine Street Development Traverse City”...

Living Wage, Not Tall Buildings Our community deserves better than the StandUp TC “vote no” arguments. They are not truthful. Their yard signs say: “More Housing. Less Red Tape. Vote like you want your kids to live here.” The truth: More housing, but for whom? At what price..

Home · Articles · News · Features · Stage set for energizing...
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Stage set for energizing TC‘s Opera House

Rick Coates - December 7th, 2009
Stage Set for Energizing
TC’s Opera House
By Rick Coates
After being embroiled in the center of controversy for the past month, the drama at the City Opera House appears to be coming to an end. Or could it be just act one is over? Maybe the next couple of weeks during the holiday season will be the intermission and in January of 2010 the second act in the drama will begin to unfold.
As the Express went to press last week, it was all but a foregone conclusion that on Monday, December 7, the Traverse City Commission would approve a three-year management deal between the City Opera House Heritage Association (COHHA) and the Wharton Center for Performing Arts at Michigan State University.
As the curtain came down on scene one of act one, on November 23, the city commission had charged City Manager R. Ben Bifoss to meet with all of the parties involved to clarify “local access and usage” of the Opera House in a Wharton-managed scenario.
Over the past two weeks, Bifoss did just that and new language was added to the agreement to clarify local access and usage. But some were surprised when they did not receive a call.
“We thought we were going to be part of the discussion group,” said Sam Porter of Porterhouse Productions. “We thought we were going to have some input in this process since we have been a primary user group over the past year.”
But Bifoss did not see it that way.
“My understanding was I was to meet with the parties involved: Wharton, COHHA and City Opera House LLC to insure that provisions for local access would be included in the contract,” said Bifoss. “That was accomplished and there is now strong language to accommodate local usage based on historical local usage currently in play. I am satisfied with the agreement and have recommended it to the City Commission for approval.”

Michael Brand, executive director of Wharton had no issues with the additional provision because he does not see it being an issue.
“First of all, Wharton operates four theaters in East Lansing that host 1,350 events annually and we only produce 150 of those events; the rest are presented by local promoters, other non-profts, etc,” said Brand. “We see that same ratio taking place in Traverse City.
So what will a Wharton/City Opera House look like in 2010? Brand says “that will depend on what the community wants.”
The first step will be to assess, discuss and bring in a new software system.
“Our team made up of six individuals, three who have places around Traverse City will sit down with COHHA and local users and start to map out a plan,” said Brand. “We need to find out from local promoters what they need from us to make what they are trying to do successful. We also need to improve the operational infrastructure.”
Brand says that a Wharton executive will be onsite two weeks of each month, with another fulltime person added to assist with operations.

One person excited to see Wharton come in is best-selling author Doug Stanton (Horse Soldiers). Stanton launched the National Writers Series last year and experienced some frustrations with how the Opera House was being operated.
“I feel very confident after my conversations with Mr. Brand that Wharton will work with us and other groups who are trying to build programs that will have not only a positive impact on our community but also for the Opera House itself,” said Stanton. “The fee structure and the miscellaneous costs being imposed were making it cost-prohibitive to build this series. I see the National Writers Series having two events each month at the Opera House and bringing national recognition to both Traverse City and the Opera House.”
It is these “add-on or hidden costs” that promoter Sam Porter is concerned about.
“The rental fees are one thing but it is all the additional add-on costs that a small community-based promoter like myself will not be able to take on and be profitable,” said Porter. “When I was in Bozeman (Montana), the venue there had a no national promoter policy and would only work with the local community promoters. These venues worked with the local promoters and everyone shared in the risks and rewards.”
These concerns go to the core of the argument of COHHA board of directors as to why having a professional management company in will benefit all user groups.
“Wharton speaks their language. they understand this business,” said Angela Schuler, co-chair of the board. “We realized that the complexities of operating a performing arts facility on a day-to-day basis cannot be handled by a volunteer board.”
“We know raising rental rates does not work, even ticket sales is not the sole answer,” said Brand at the Nov. 23 city commission meeting. “This business is about a balance between rental fees, ticket sales, donors and endowments.”

In a telephone interview last week, Brand furthered his point.
“The Opera House is going to require more usage from more users. With only 120 days out of 365 that are currently used, there is a lot of room for a lot of things to take place there. If what is presented is a variety the donor base for the operation is expanded,” said Brand. “So our plan in 2010 is to meet with local promoters and users and talk about how we can collaborate to make what they are doing successful. That might mean restructuring rental agreements so that we can build these types of series that local promoters are talking about.”
So at the end of 2010, what will a Wharton-managed Opera House look like?
“If we do our job right the Opera House will have diverse programming that will appeal to a wide demographic in the region,” said Brand. “It will become that anchor that everyone hopes it will be. It will be a cultural gem for the region and an economic driver for downtown.”
That is music to the ears of COHHA board that over a 25-year period raised $8 million to restore the Opera House. So, what do they see as their role in a Wharton-managed Opera House?
“First we will be able to turn our energies back to raising the $1.5 million and maybe more needed to complete the restoration. After all, that was what this board was originally established to do. There are technical improvements that need to be made backstage and restorative painting as well as other items,” said Jeff Corbin, of the Opera House LLC.
Brand says that the first step (if the City Commission approves the agreement) will be to start meeting with user groups to develop programming.
“I think what Traverse City is going to find is that we are going to put together a broad base of cultural and user offerings at the Opera House, that at the end of the day all of us are going to be proud of our accomplishments.”

The contractual agreement between COHHA and Wharton calls for a $75,000 management fee and Wharton receiving 25% of revenues if the Opera House is in the black at the end of the year. Currently the Opera House operates in the red, a fiscal responsibility of COHHA board, not the taxpayers of Traverse City. So after July 1, 2010 Wharton will now be financially responsible for day-to-day operations and any losses incurred.
So Wharton has financial motivations for the Opera House to be successful, but Brand’s response to that might come as a shock, especially to those who are expressing concern over the deal.
“We are a non-profit performing arts organization, interested in presenting programming that the community we represent will be proud of,” said Brand. “Traverse City will know when we have been successful not only from us orchestrating a variety of programming but if in three to six years they no longer need us to be here to manage the Opera House and they can take it back over.”
What? Isn’t it Wharton’s objective to manage performing arts venues around the state?
“Not at all,” said Brand. “This opportunity simply presented itself to us. We were asked and we felt we could help the Opera House out. We have partnerships around Michigan including in Traverse City that are collaborative in nature. I do not see us managing other facilities around the state, we have four of our own, now the Opera House and several collaborative partnerships, we are certainly fulfilling our mission.”
Now the question to be answered is, will Wharton fulfill their mission at the City Opera House?
“I am hopefully and cautiously optimistic,” said Sam Porter. “I will be resubmitting my holds (verbal agreements to dates) next week for several shows in 2010. I plan to average two shows a month (Porterhouse started a concert series last year that appealed to the young professionals in the region). There are a lot of questions still to be answered and concerns over fair access for the local promoter versus the national promoter coming in.”
Stay tuned, the second act of City Opera House will take place in 2010. Oh, one request of Wharton from this entertainment writer: Any chance U2 could do a satellite date this June at the Opera House? It never hurts to ask.
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