Bass Performance Hall’s resident arts groups — the Van Cliburn Foundation, Texas Ballet Theater, Fort Worth Opera, and Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra — are sounding the alarm after being notified that they may soon lose access to free parking for their patrons. The groups are working together to contact patrons and urge them to get in touch with the director of the downtown tax increment financing district — the entity that has proposed withdrawing its subsidy of the free downtown parking — to express their concerns.
The action on parking will affect more than just the patrons of those arts groups. The end of the subsidy would mean the end of free parking not only for Bass Hall arts patrons at the 777 Main Parking Garage but also for the public in general at the two City Center garages just east and north of Bass Hall. Four other downtown garages may lose subsidies as their leases expire between now and 2018.
A final vote by the TIF board is scheduled for Monday morning, in a 10 a.m. meeting in pre-council chambers at city hall.
The decision to discontinue free parking almost happened two months ago, with little notice to the public. Amy Adkins, president of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra , said Johnny Campbell, president of Sundance Square and a TIF board member, spoke out during a TIF board meeting in July, urging the board to postpone a vote until there could be public input. Adkins was made aware of the situation and Campbell’s last-minute-save by Dione Kennedy, president and CEO of Bass Performance Hall. Adkins and several arts directors then attended the following September TIF meeting urging board members to postpone the vote until the public and arts groups could have the opportunity to give input.
“There are many negative ramifications for the [symphony] if the TIF board decides not to renew the lease for the 777 Main parking garage,” Adkins said.
That garage, she said, provides parking for all 69 performances of the symphony, and with the possible loss of free access to the City Center garages as well, there would be no free parking lot in close proximity to Bass Hall, a clear barrier for older patrons who are less mobile, she said.
“If folks were to have to pay for parking we are absolutely certain that our attendance numbers would decline,” Adkins said. “The TIF board has received about 2,500 messages from our patrons, all in support of maintaining free parking.”
Glenda Thompson, managing director of the downtown Jubilee Theatre, said her group is in a similar bind. Parking, paid or otherwise, is already hard for her customers to find, she said, and the loss of free parking would be “yet another hurdle” for them.
“At some point people may become accustomed to [paid parking], but there may be a [learning] curve to get there” and that could hurt attendance in the short term.
“Several of our patrons have written letters to the city, voicing their opinions,” she said.
Tracy Gilmour, director of marketing at Sundance Square, said the sensitive nature of the upcoming vote and Campbell’s overlapping positions with Sundance Square and the TIF board have led her organization to withhold comment until after the vote. Campbell will abstain from voting, she said.
The downtown TIF, like other TIFs, uses tax revenues generated in that district, above a certain base level, to make improvements only within the district, meaning those tax dollars are not available citywide.
Ending the parking subsidy would add millions annually to the TIF fund, which is set to end in 11 years. The TIF, as an example, pays owners of the 777 Main garage $520,000 annually, to set aside 700 parking spaces to be used by Bass Hall patrons without charge during evening events by the various performing arts organizations. The total cost to the TIF to subsidize the six downtown garages is just over $6 million annually.
Adkins said arts leaders and patrons will be out in force Monday with many individuals planning to speak for the allotted three-minute time slots. She said the public response is already starting to make a difference in how the board views the issue.
Like many arts groups in Fort Worth, she said, the symphony does not have funds to subsidize parking if the TIF drops its support.
The TIF 3 (Downtown) Board meeting that was scheduled to occur on Monday, October 13 has been cancelled. The meeting will now take place on Wednesday, October 29th at 9:00 am in Pre-Council Chambers. — Michael Henning with city housing and economic development.