Monday, May 03, 2004

Jennifer and I met with City Manager Leveron Bryant this morning ...

to discuss the possibility of our taking over the management of the Convention Center in the downtown civic center. For a long time I've been wanting to find my place in the world of arts & culture in a really productive way. The need it great and the opportunity presented by this budget crisis is unprecedented.

Like many inner cities throughout the nation, Richmond has an abandoned core of historic buildings that have been empty and rotting away for 30 years. They're owned by the Redevelopment Agency and border on the most poverty-stricken area of the city. It is also probably 80-90% African-American with a Latino in-migration creeping into view.

The area is not unlike Port Washington where a crime and drug-infested area has been razed and reconfigured as an Arts & Entertainment district with the arts used as an economic engine for positive change. There is significant interest among funders in the area to work with us to create our own version of that model.

Wrote a paper describing the vision that I've been carrying around in my head for the past several years and passed it along to targeted movers and shakers in the city -- so much so that I'm now hearing pieces of it pop up from the mouths of others who have no idea of the genesis, but have bought into the dream. That's exciting!

Both Jennifer and I are members of the Arts Commission and she's also now a member of the Contra Costa County Arts Commission as well. We've been lobbying and schmoozin' with anyone we thought we could light a fire under and it's finally blossomed into reality after more than year of priming the pump.

I believe that my best and most convincing argument has been this, "...can you imagine what it has cost this city to allow this entire district of historic buildings to lie fallow for all these years? Has anyone taken the time to total up the losses in taxes and fear and poor image? If we could put a dollar figure on that, I can't imagine how the city can afford NOT to do what I'm asking."

Thirty years ago the redevelopment agency saw fit to leave the center of the city (civic center, etc.) and build a brand new shopping mall on the absolute edge of the border that abuts the city of Pinole. In so doing, it left behind only tiny marginal businesses and a few county and federal buildings. The downtown therefore dies at five o'clock and weekends, leaving the community with little life. Meanwhile, Pinole developed ITS shopping center just across the freeway on the same border leaving Richmond's mall to slowly die, robbing the general fund of sales taxes with which to fund city services.

My interest in this and and my work with the new national park are related. That shoreline park is a mere two miles from the historic (and abandoned) downtown. To now begin the process of developing that area as an Arts & Entertainment district will allow the city to draw tourists into the heart of the city from the shoreline, bringing their sales tax change with them.

I see art galleries, jazz clubs, blues houses, shops, cafes, restaurants, etc., with the Convention Center as the beginning piece. There is in this district the 38 year-old East Bay Center for the Performing Arts (on whose board I've served for years), the marvelous full service Richmond Arts Center (ceramic, painting, jewelry, textile studios plus exhibit spaces), plus NIAD -- the National Institute for Artists with Disabilities. Those are the building blocks upon which we will begin to flesh out the vision. The Richmond civic television station is also located in the convention center, and there is a huge public square (lawned) in front of those buildings upon which outdoor festivals and artist vendors can exhibit and sell their wares.

The Rosie Memorial National Park is a 10-year project. Ours will take at least that long, so all I can do is lay down the initial tiles in this mosaic and leave the full development to Jennifer and whoever we can train to pick up the reins later on. I'm probably good for another year or two, but that's enough time to pass the torch and see that it's properly lit.

Our meeting with the city manager was wonderful! We have the go-ahead to proceed with the final plans. Jennifer and I will be working over the next few weeks to flesh out the proposal that we presented to him and to pull together a realistic budget for the city council to pass on. However, we have the original buy-in from the manager and will work now on the PowerPoint presentation for the Council's budget workshop in about 30-45 days from now -- with his total support.

Incidentally, Jennifer and I are now partners in a consulting firm called, "About Face Consulting." She's phenomenal. We have complementary skills. She's closer to the age of my late eldest son than to me, and that's wonderful. I get lots of energy from her incredibly facile mind and she is able and more than willing to absorb what she can from my years of experience. We're one strong team, and I'm looking forward to the next two or three years of learning. Our primary love is the performing arts and she's had lots of experience to draw from.

Life keeps unfolding ...

Wish me luck!