More Barter bumbles

To the Editor,

Even for those who’ve been paying close attention to all the Barter plans, we now see another major problem has been in the city’s plan all along but hasn’t been made known to public. This is but one example of the excess secrecy surrounding this whole Spencers thing.

The new problem is about how Barter will be paying the city to use the theater. The theater is to be built by a private investor but he requires the city to lease it from him for $560K per year. It appears he is not willing to lease it to Barter, or maybe Barter won’t sign a lease. So the city says it will sublease it to Barter. That’s misleading because there is no rent. Not only no rent but the city will give Barter $2 million in cash subsidies over first five years. We’ve been told all along the city will be repaid by an extra $7.50 per ticket facility fee.

So now, at this late date and after many meetings, we see this important fact. The $7.50 per ticket facility fee will not be on all tickets; apparently not even on the majority of tickets. It will not apply to tour buses, season tickets, children’s plays, etc. That looks like only a small portion of tickets left to generate fees to repay the city.

Not only that, but Barter is not willing to “earn” the $2 million in cash subsidies by ticket sales, they only want to be measured by how many plays they put on. The entire idea for the whole Spencers Mill Project is to bring tourists here and boost our economy. Having plays with low tickets sales does not bring many tourists.

We’ve asked repeatedly for city to add two “safety clauses” to any agreements with Barter and/or Investor who builds theater.

(1) The safety clause for Barter would spell out how many tickets and how much in facility fees would be required to qualify for the $2 million cash subsidies from city.

(2) The safety clause for the Investor building the theater would say the city would pay the $560,000 per year lease unless the “new” tax revenues coming directly from the Spencers Mill Project is at least that much. If new tax is less, the lease will be less.

So far the city has not added the safety clauses. Those two simple clauses would protect taxpayers if/when the projects fall short of projections. We’ve been told these projects will bring us enough “new” sales and property taxes to repay the millions the city would pay out. If the Barter and the investor believe the projected new revenue will come to the city, they should have no problem with adding the two clauses. If they don’t believe the projections why should we?

Contact the commissioners. Their emails and phones are at bottom of page 4 of this paper.

John Pritchard

Mount Airy