Maple Leaf committee: No more forums

Sufficient input time has been given at past public meetings, group says

The Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center is closer to becoming a reality, as the government-owned music venue has received the necessary board approvals.

Last month, the League of Women Voters offered to host a community conversation for Maple Leaf committee members and government officials to answer questions from the public about the project.

“It has not been scheduled and it won’t be at this point,” said Julie Winn, League president, last week.

“In the end, it seemed that the officials decided that the regularly scheduled meetings where it was on the agenda were sufficient,” she said. “Some of our members thought that it wasn’t, so we threw it out there.”

The League does not have a position on the Maple Leaf project. Winn said the League knows many people have worked hard on it.

“Many of these people feel they heard plenty from the public and want it recognized, as it should be, that they took this into account in the current financing plan and the decision to avoid (routing venue traffic down) Hawthorne (Drive),” she said.

Bruce Gould, president of the Brown County Convention and Visitors Bureau executive board, told Winn via email that the Maple Leaf project had been discussed in depth in public meetings where public comments were allowed, and in Brown County Democrat stories. The project had to go before the Brown County Commissioners, Brown County Area Plan Commission and Brown County County Council in order for the land to be rezoned and to be approved for financing for the $12.5 million project.

The project was first introduced at a June public gathering at the Brown County Playhouse, where a presentation was given and questions were taken.

Members of the Maple Leaf committee also presented the project to groups who had expressed interest in learning more, Gould said. Those included the Brown County Chamber of Commerce, the Brown County Playhouse Board, the Nashville Arts and Entertainment Commission, the Brown County Board of Realtors and the Rotary Club of Brown County.

The committee also met with residents of Willow Manor and Hawthorne Hills senior apartments to discuss the project and hear concerns. “Their largest concern, traffic, has been completely addressed to their satisfaction,” Gould wrote in the email.

Gould said the CVB website also has information about the project along with audio of county meetings in which the project was discussed.

“The Maple Leaf team intends to continue to proceed with the highest degree of integrity and professionalism,” Gould wrote. “Holding additional meetings will be redundant and could be counterproductive for all parties.”

Still, residents had questions.

At the Nov. 15 Brown County Commissioners meeting, Chris Ross handed the commissioners a list of 34 questions and comments from citizens about the Maple Leaf which she said she had compiled from an online survey.

They centered on a perceived lack of hearings to get public input; questions about ownership of the venue; a need to see actual documents and plans; the possible impact of a 2,000-seat concert venue on emergency services and taxpayers; and a need for a commitment that no public money will be used beyond the innkeepers tax.

Gould had asked for questions in advance of a community conversation. Winn told him that the League doesn’t give questions out ahead of time and that she was not sure what would be asked. “I did, however, offer to get him the list already in circulation so that he would have an idea of the concerns that might come up,” she said.

Gould wrote in the email that most of the questions on that list had been answered already, but that the team would submit written answers to the League and to the Brown County Democrat on questions that they felt had not been answered.

Winn said she also spoke with the county commissioners about having a community conversation with them, but they couldn’t agree on a date before Christmas.

The goal to close on the purchase of property for the venue — at Snyder Farm behind Brown County Health & Living — has been mid-December.

She said she would have liked to have had a community conversation where the Maple Leaf “could be hashed out.”

“I think that while some have argued that you don’t legislate or move forward by public debate, public debate does have a healthy role in the process,” Winn said.

“While it’s true that people could and did speak out at various regularly scheduled meetings, there was no event that was really focused on this outside regularly scheduled meetings.”

About the project

Organizers behind the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center submitted the following “fact sheet” to the Brown County Democrat last week:

  • The bank loan for all facets of the construction of the building including land acquisition is $12.5 million.
  • As the Maple Leaf theater is becoming more of a certainty and construction is a reality, more information will be made to the public through news releases and CVB website updates. The public can expect regular updates. Marketing this project effectively is crucial.
  • The venue is expected to be completed and open for business in the spring of 2019. Construction should take about 13 months depending on weather.
  • The only public access to the venue will be on Maple Leaf Boulevard, a new three-lane street being constructed from State Road 46 south to the venue parking lot. Traffic in the middle lane will alternate depending on if the parking lot is filling up or emptying out. Manual traffic control will provide direction as needed at the intersection of 46 and Maple Leaf Boulevard.
  • More than 600 parking spaces are provided. Guests are expected to also arrive by bus, shuttle and by walking from nearby hotels or on the Salt Creek Trail.
  • A professional booking agency will be contracted to retain major performers, but will not have exclusive booking rights. Other booking agencies will be used in addition to performances arranged by the Maple Leaf executive director.
  • As is the case with most performing venues today, the majority of ticket sales will be made from the Maple Leaf website or booking company website.
  • The Maple Leaf venue will have slightly over 2,000 seats plus possibly some standing-room-only designated areas.
  • The Maple Leaf lobby is being designed to allow Brown County art, crafts and tourist information to be showcased.

About the innkeepers tax

The innkeepers tax — a 5-percent tax charged on room rentals in Brown County — will be a backup funding mechanism for the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center. Income from the venue will be the primary source of paying its mortgage, the Maple Leaf committee told the county commissioners.

The Maple Leaf committee anticipates innkeeper’s tax revenue for 2017 will be $839,000. Of that, $712,500 is budgeted to the Brown County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the remainder is retained by the Brown County Convention and Visitors Commission, according to a “fact sheet” the committee submitted last week.

As of Dec. 4, Brown County Auditor Beth Mulry reported receiving $772,853.54 in innkeepers tax for 2017. Innkeepers tax is collected on the 20th of the following month. For example, January 2017 innkeepers tax was due on Feb. 20. That means December innkeepers tax will not be collected until Jan. 20, 2018.

According to Maple Leaf financing plans, the innkeepers tax will be used as a backup funding source in case the venue does not make enough to pay its $559,000-per-year mortgage. After 2023, the mortgage payment will go up to $733,000 per year, according to a presentation given to the county commissioners in November.

The CVB’s 2018 budget is $712,500, which is 95 percent of the $750,000 approved for the CVC by the county council during budget hearings last August, said CVB Executive Director Jane Ellis.

The budget for 2017 was $693,500, which is 95 percent of the $730,000 approved for the CVC.

There are no CVB budget cuts planned in 2018, Ellis said. The first payment for the venue will be due in 2019, the Maple Leaf committee told the commissioners.

Since 2009, innkeepers tax collections have risen each year except for 2011 and 2014, according to the auditor’s budgetary status report.

In 2011, the total amount of revenue was $645,187.25, down from $662,889.84 collected the year before.

In 2014, $714,068.79 was collected, a decrease of almost $31,000 compared to 2013.

Mulry also said that when the Brown County treasurer’s office submits the receipts for innkeepers tax, it is unclear what months those taxes were actually from.

Andy Bond with the treasurer’s office said the employee who inputs each individual tax collected and the date into Quickbooks has been on maternity leave. Treasurer Mary Smith is also out of the office, so Bond said she has not had the time to input all of that data into Quickbooks.

A list is made on who is delinquent, and that is shared with the CVC.

The CVC manages innkeepers tax revenue. Most of it goes to the Brown County Convention and Visitors Bureau to market Brown County.

Maple Leaf questions and answers

The Maple Leaf committee opted to answer eight questions about the music venue project in writing. They also submitted a Maple Leaf fact sheet.

“Maple Leaf representatives recognize the need and fully desire to be transparent and provide information to the public through other methods. This project is still in mid-development and many questions simply cannot be answered with absolutes,” Brown County Convention and Visitors Bureau President Bruce Gould wrote.

Besides Gould, Maple Leaf committee members include Kevin Ault, Diana Biddle, Doug Harden, Barry Herring, Jim Schultz and Wayne O’Hara (agent for the Snyder Farm land where the venue is to be built).

A list of the questions submitted to the committee including those that the committee did not answer in writing is here:

Q: What is the management plan? Who is responsible for running the facility? Hiring?

A: The primary management responsibility will belong to the executive director of the Maple Leaf Theater. The executive director will report to the nonprofit Maple Leaf Management Corporation. The Maple Leaf Management Corporation will be designed and function in much the same way as the Convention and Visitors Bureau. It will also be under the direction of the tourism commission (formally known as the Brown County Convention and Visitors Commission, or CVC). A board of directors will make policy and mission decisions, but the executive director will perform day-to-day tasks, such as hiring.

Q: Of this estimated amount (the budget), how much is planned for salaried or hourly pay and for how many positions? What is the nature of the positions — full time, part time and/or seasonal? Benefits?

A: The Maple Leaf Theater will have between six and 10 full-time staff plus a number of part-time employees used primarily during events. The executive director will oversee the theater operations and staffing, but also be experienced in negotiating and scheduling events. The other full-time employees will have skills that match specific needs for operating the theater, such as a sound and lighting technician, security specialist, marketing and concessions. Part-time employee tasks would include things such as janitorial after events, ushers and stage assistants. Once the theater is operational, the exact number of needed staff will become apparent, and there will always be staffing adjustments and job description changes. Employee benefits have not yet been discussed, but are not linked in any way to employee benefits provided to county employees.

Q: What are the other uses allowed/intended for this money (innkeepers tax)?

A: Under Indiana Code 6-9-14, chapter 14 was specifically written to create the Brown County innkeepers tax. IC 6-9-14-2, Sec.2(a) says …”whose purpose is to promote the development and growth of conventions and visitation in the county.” The statute requires the collected funds to be administered by a tourism commission (CVC). The tourism commission consists of five members appointed by the county commissioners and county council, three of whom are required by state statute to represent the hotel industry. Of the over 30 counties in Indiana that collect an innkeepers tax, all were created in the same legislative manner and operate in very similar fashion with the goal being to increase tourism.

Q: The CVC is in a contract for 95 percent of its revenue until the end of 2018 with the CVB. When is the first bond (loan) payment going to be due? Will the CVC break the contract? At what cost?

A: The first loan payment on the mortgage will occur in the spring of 2019. The CVB has already passed a motion agreeing to adjust its budget as needed to accommodate the needs of the Maple Leaf project in 2018. However, the way the Maple Leaf financing package has evolved, no CVB budget adjustments are anticipated in 2018. The contract between the CVC and CVB expires Dec. 31, 2018. A new contract will be negotiated at that time to address all of the operational nuances resulting in the new relationship among the CVC, CVB and Maple Leaf Management Corporation. The CVC and CVB already work as a team with a common goal and expect that relationship to continue and include the Maple Leaf Management Corporation. The CVC will also have administrative authority over the Maple Leaf Management Corporation. There will be no broken contracts or financial penalties resulting between the CVC and CVB.

Q: Can the town handle the additional sewage demands of Maple Leaf and Big Woods with the existing plant in Nashville? Does that plant have any capacity for additional projects after those two are in place?

A: Only the town can answer parts of this question. A requirement during the rezoning process was for all utility providers to submit a letter stating that they could provide adequate service for the project — which all providers did, to include the town for water and sewer.

(When asked this question by The Democrat last week, Nashville Utility Coordinator Sean Cassiday said, “The answer is yes to Big Woods and Maple Leaf as well as yes to others in the future.”)

Q: The Maple Leaf will be owned by the county and managed by government appointees and elected officials. What expertise do these individuals have regarding owning and managing a music venue?

A: The Maple Leaf will be owned by the county the same as the jail, the recycling center and other county functions. The Maple Leaf venue will be managed by a management corporation with day-to-day operations performed by a skilled executive director and skilled staff. Annual financial reports from the venue will be provided to the commissioners and council.

Q: Given the likelihood of more hotels, bars and restaurants, will the town’s noise ordinance need to be rescinded to accommodate more tourists and longer hours?

A: This will be an issue for the Town of Nashville to address.

(When asked this question by The Democrat last week, Town Manager Scott Rudd said, “It’s not anticipated that any change to the noise ordinance would need to occur, but if something changes, it’s always able to be amended.”)

Q: Who certifies that the acoustic and sound design will meet industry standards?

A: An acoustic expert has been retained to work on this project. We fully recognize the importance of great sound and lighting for the success of this project.

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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers business, cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.