Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Banfield Cultural Arts Center...yes, again

The Banfield Cultural Arts Center (2002-date): The project was begun when the Cultural Arts Commission pushed the purchase of the building, which happened to be owned by a major Republican contributor to GOP political campaigns. The building was pretty much falling apart, but the township bought it anyway and then-Mayor Rosemarie Peters declared the building "structurally sound." This was despite the fact that, after the building was bought, it was pretty much ripped apart and rebuilt.

OK, the plan was for private contributions to mingle with public money to make a venue in town that was supposed to have something to do with artistic culture (not plowing roads, not clearing branches from the street, not cleaning up public parks that have been rundown...culture). I want to make note that artistic culture isn't hard to find in this area: Broadway and most of the notable galleries on the planet are across the river, Red Bank is over the bridge, and the state theater (not to mention the George Street and Crossroads theaters) are all in New Brunswick (about a half-hour away).

So the private contributions didn't work out, and the town bonded for the whole thing(even though they have a ton of room they're already not using at Croydon Hall). The town says the total cost was like $6.5 million. But they aren't willing to talk about the legal fees it took for the town to build this (there was a lawsuit and some legal messes through the years). Thus, without reliable information (since the town won't give it) about how much money that part of the deal soaked up, some folks, myself included started thinking the whole thing was probably closer to $9 million. Of course, my mind is open about the legal fees and I could be wrong about that total number but since the government refuses to say how much money went into the legal part of this then it's hard to gauge.

Now, when Banfield was being built, some people (I was one) was asking for the business plan for the thing. Since so much public money was going into it, then I thought there must be a plan for the township to make that money back and then some because they took out a 30-year bond to pay for the construction.

But there was no business plan. Then, when it was opened, the town leased it to a community group for $1 a year. It employed someone from the township to be a director of some kind, and they gave the building a liquor license. The questions I've always had is why the taxpayer is paying for this, what are they getting out of it, who is paying off this note they took and why does anyone need liquor at this place?

After all that, just what was this Banfield thing good for? It was GREAT for Middletown GOP Boss Pete Carton's firm, which got the bonding, for the Republican contractors, lawyers and good ol' boys that turned a dollar. How does that save any taxpayer one buck or do one thing for the citizenry? It doesn't.

For questions I've raised about Banfield and some other stuff, people have had some hard things to say about me. Well, that's just how it goes. I guess I'm not going to be filling my refrigerator door up with Christmas cards this year.

Caption: An example of early American construction at the Jamestown settlement during the 17th century,

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