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Proposed cultural center is a case of deja vu

Even though my son was barely into grammar school those many years ago, I still insisted he keep up with current events. Our family read and discussed the morning newspapers at the breakfast table, watched the news on television in the evening and subscribed to several news magazines.

One day I called him in from play to watch the news.

"Do I have to?" he asked, scrunching up his nose. "It's just reruns."

He was pretty much on the mark. After more than 40 years in the news business, I find myself (and my colleagues) writing the same stories over and over, just with different names.

Take, for example, a proposal by a newly formed Cultural Arts and Entertainment Center Inc., in Hernando County, which hopes to buy the former Suzuki car dealership's building on State Road 50 and turn it into a multi-purpose cultural center.

Plans call for a 600-seat theater with movable seats and a "floating stage," offices for various art groups, meeting spaces for art groups and an art gallery, according to Myndee Washington, the vice chairman of the group and executive director of the Hernando County Fine Arts Council.

For money, the space could be rented for dance recitals, conferences, trade shows, parties, theater events and summer camps, among other things, she said.

Any of this sound familiar?

Nimmagadda project

If not, think back to 1999, when a similar Hernando group launched plans for the Nimmagadda Cultural Center, consisting of "an art gallery, classroom space and a 1,000-seat concert hall."

That project started out as a $2.7 million gallery with classrooms and an outdoor performance pavilion, then grew into a $10.3 million museum and concert hall with no visible means of support once it was built.

Times were relatively flush then, but despite four years of fundraisers and earnest solicitations for donations, that group raised just $428,173 in cash, spent around $220,000 for architect's plans and public relations guidance, then finally chucked the whole idea and refunded what was left.

The big donors back then were the Nimmagadda family, Hernando County, the state, Oak Hill Hospital, the Hernando Symphony Orchestra, the Times and the council's own fundraisers.

Now, with the economy in the shape it's in and governments and businesses playing Edward Scissorhands with their budgets, I wonder whether this newest project will be able to raise even a portion of the $1.9 million needed to buy the building, much less a million or so to renovate it.

And once it's built, where will they find the money to pay for electricity, water, sewage, janitorial services, upkeep, pest control, grounds maintenance and staff every month? That could easily run $100,000 a year or more (I base this on what it costs just to run the clubhouse at my homeowners' association, where I was treasurer for eight years).

Grand competition

The Hernando cultural center will be in competition with the opulently appointed Palace Grand for conferences, trade shows, parties and professional entertainers, and they'll be trying to do it without the kitchen, gourmet chefs and full bar the Palace Grand has. They'll be in competition with the Show Palace Dinner Theatre for professional entertainment and Stage West Community Playhouse and Richey Suncoast Theatre for amateur productions, to say nothing of other convenient venues like the Aripeka Elks Lodge and Colorama Studios, both with kitchens and bars.

As for smaller conferences, the highways are lined with motels and restaurants with nice meeting rooms and those all-important kitchens and bars. School auditoriums do nicely for dance recitals and concerts, as does the recently remodeled Pasco-Hernando Community College, with stadium seating for 600 and state-of-the-art sound and light systems.

The Hernando group is holding a public meeting to lay out its plans at 7 p.m. Sept. 8 at Brooksville Quarry/Partners Enrichment Center, 800 John Gary Grubbs Blvd., Brooksville.

A committee led by group chairman Rick Foti and businessman Gus Guadagnino will present a preliminary business plan, Washington said.

As they do, we can only hope they'll remember the dashed dreams of similar endeavors of the past, when undercapitalized promoters operating on razor-thin margins lost tens of thousands of dollars on their dreams and often left their backers, supporters and customers holding worthless pieces of paper.

Proposed cultural center is a case of deja vu 08/26/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 26, 2011 9:03pm]
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