City of Madison

Former City of Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz

Former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's Blog

Clear Direction

November 19, 2010 2:31 PM

There are few people inside or outside city government who I respect more than Mark Clear, the current Council President. So, I like the fact that Clear has stepped up with a bold idea to break what had been a developing log jam on efforts to resolve the remaining issues on the Overture Center for the Arts.

Clear has proposed a "private-private" model whereby the nonprofit 201 State Foundation would both own and operate the facility. We had been working off a public-private configuration under which the city would own Overture and then lease the building to 201 State.

Clear's proposal has gotten more traction with the City Council than the public-private plan that I had negotiated with the foundation and that's fine. My goal has always been to get to a resolution on this by the end of the year, and I'll support any plan that works.

But as we go forward with a Council meeting on November 30 to hammer out more details of the exact city offer to the foundation, the issues that had been vetted in my plan will still have to be addressed. In a nutshell here they are.

How will we get public accountability for the now $2 million net taxpayer subsidy for a facility that would now be wholly owned and operated by a private entity? The agreement I negotiated had specific requirements for financial accountability and outreach efforts. That's easy to demand in a public building, but how much can we demand from a totally private operation?

How would the Clear plan treat the current employees at Overture? My agreement would have essentially guaranteed a union job for every current union employee. How can we demand that of a totally private facility?

What's the city's recourse if the plan fails? Under my agreement the city would still own the asset if the nonprofit failed, so we could start again with a new nonprofit. We could still control its future. If the building is owned by the same nonprofit that goes bankrupt, what happens to this big, important building in the center of our city?

I have little doubt that all these questions can be answered and that the Council can forward a new offer to 201 State in time to get this resolved by the end of the year. We're making progress and the reason is Clear.


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