Thursday, September 27, 2007

Just call me Kreskin and let me select a scratch ticket

A few weeks ago, I predicted that Governor Patrick would come out for some sort of casino gambling plan. He finally did recently, so I feel my psychic powers are now at their peak so maybe I should buy a lottery ticket this week.

According to "The Boston Globe," liberals who backed Patrick feel "betrayed" by his pro-casino stand. Having covered the campaign, I never heard Patrick condemn or endorse casinos. He always took a middle ground of wanting to hear more before he made up his mind.

These liberals who feel betrayed ought to feel a little pain toward their legislator who hasn't been supporting their governor of late. I love a guy like Sal DiMasi, who represents the same number of people as any other state rep, pontificate about gambling he'll listen to the governor, but he doubts he'll change his mind.

Okay, Sal and for that matter, allow me to also address our local delegation how are you going to create a revenue stream to increase local aid? How can we lower our local property tax burden so the Commonwealth is a more livable state?

We're not getting a lot of alternatives from the General Court in terms of new ways to generate income for municipalities. The Legislature won't give cities and towns the flexibility of having a local hotel or meals tax. A number of mayors have begged the Legislature to give them this option.

Hey Sal, what do your constituents think about casino gambling? Do any of them buy lottery tickets? Do they go to Foxwoods? Las Vegas? Do they play bingo at their church? So are their gambling habits ethical and moral, but a local casino wouldn't be?

I love the raw hypocrisy this issue is exposing. If gambling is wrong than why allow it at all? Answer, Mr. Speaker?

According to a Sept. 7 poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports, 58 percent of those polled said casino gambling should be legalized; 31 percent said it shouldn't and 11 percent were unsure.

I don't think any casino should be shoved down the throat of a community that doesn't want it. There are communities that would welcome a casino.

Personally I don't care if we have a casino or not. I hardly ever gamble. I only care about the growing problem we have here of a state that is becoming so expensive we are driving out young people.

If the Legislature opposes casinos they should do so based on having an economic plan to create new revenues that doesn't involve new taxes. Their decision should also reflect their constituents' overwhelming opposition to casino gambling.

***

I attended an interesting meeting the other night concerning how Pittsfield and Worcester have been using arts and culture as economic engines to help revitalize their cities. Here's the story:
Jeremy Cole, the chair of the Springfield Cultural Council, said that what is lacking in transforming the city's art and culture institutions and organizations into an economic driver is cooperation and a city official designated to implement a mutual marketing plan.

Cole was one of about 30 people who attended "Culture Lead the Economy," a panel discussion funded by an Adams Grant at the Central Library on Wednesday. The John and Abigail Adams Grants are awarded by the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) to foster and promote cultural assets as a economic development tool.

The attendees heard how artists and city planners in Pittsfield and Worcester have utilized arts and culture to bring in new revenues into those cities.

Barbara Garvey, who was representing Mayor Charles Ryan, explained at the forum that during the administration of Mayor Theodore Dimauro, she and Shera Cohen, who organized the panel discussion, both worked in the Mayor's Office for Cultural Affairs. It was during that time that Riverfront Park was developed, she added.

The Mayor's Office for Cultural Affairs has long since been eliminated from the city government, but Cole believes that it's time to have a person in charge of a cooperative plan for the city's diverse arts and culture scene is "exactly what we need."

He told Reminder Publications that while David Panagore, the city's head of economic development, is doing a "great job, he is spread too thin."

Cole said the problem in Springfield isn't the city not having arts and cultural attractions; it's a lack of cooperation. He said that some of the organizations do coordinate activities with others, but not with all.

Michael Kane, representing the Mount Auburn Group, told the audience the consultants recently completed interviews with 25 people in the local arts scene to assess what are the city's needs. They are working with the city on a proposal to the MCC to fund a large-scale strategic plan for the city.

Kane said at this time in Springfield the major arts organizations are very well known, while the second and third tier groups are not. There isn't an "artistic infrastructure" to help support the efforts of these groups and that there are too many organizations "chasing too few dollars."

A challenge for the city is looking at the two separate demographics in the downtown arts, culture and entertainment scene. The arts and culture institutions draw a primarily white, middle class, and older audience, while the entertainment district attracts a younger, more racially diverse group.

The growing number of downtown restaurants would also be a part of a cultural plan for the city, Kane added.

He questioned if there was a way to make the arts and culture offerings from the city's colleges more accessible and noted there are opportunities for cultural development with the State Street Corridor project, the new Federal Courthouse, the redevelopment of the York Street Jail and the Union Station.

Erin Williams, cultural development officer of the Economic Development Division of the city of Worcester, did admit that trying to get artists to work together in cooperative enterprises is not unlike "herding cats."

She said the Worcester effort came out of 14 arts organizations banding together in the late 1990s to lobby the city for funding and after some initial success the city created the position in 1999 that she now holds.

Williams detailed the projects undertaken by the city include filling vacant storefronts with displays of local artwork; creating "WOO," a special discount card for cultural and arts events distributed to 12,000 college students in the city and developing a new signage system for the city to guide people to institutions and neighborhoods.

"Everyone gets lost in Worcester," she said.

She said the creation of a Web site, www.socialweb.net, as a clearinghouse of activities in and around the city has also drawn young audiences to events.

Deanna Ruffer, of the Department Community Development in Pittsfield, described the city of 40,000 as a "bleeding town" thanks to the departure of General Electric and 13,000 jobs over 20 years ago.

Ruffer said the effort to use art as a force for change started with a grassroots effort by artist Maggie Mailer to fill empty downtown storefronts with artist studios. Over 50 artists took advantage of the program.

James Ruberto, the mayor of Pittsfield, has been both a "visionary and a salesman," according to Ruffer. Under Ruberto's administration, the Colonial Theater was restored, creating an unique performing space, the acclaimed Barrington Stage Company has been brought to the city, and the city has been branded as "Creative Pittsfield."

The results of those developments and events have brought 1,200 to 1,800 visitors to the city's downtown.

Ruffer cautioned the effort hasn't been without its challenges. City officials have worked to create a zoning overlay to plan the redevelopment of the downtown including making sure there is affordable housing.

Safety perception issues are important, she said. She advised making sure streetlights have stronger bulbs wattages in many cities were lowered to save money and to ask businesses to turn on lights at night.


Roughly, both cities started their efforts with a grassroots approach and then formalized it by forming coalitions of their various arts groups with the city government.

It's time we did that here. We need a person in the city government to begin the type of work these other two cities are doing.

We've got great arts groups. They need to work together under a plan to maximize their economic potential for the city.

It would be a wise move for the Finance Control Board to begin working on creating and funding such a position.

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

3 comments:

Tommy said...

Let me check my crystal ball:

Building government controlled casinos might have some virtues (although I doubt it) but it will do NOTHING to reduce property taxes.

I also see a taxpayer paid arts position accomplishing NOTHING.

Thus speaketh the Great Swami Devine.

Mark Martin said...

He's right. You won't see taxes go down nor services go up.

And artists who suck the taxpayer teat are scum. SCUM I TELL YOU!

Mike Dobbs said...

No one is talking at this point about sucking a teat. Mark, why oh why it's always teats for you! Teat this! Teat that!

What is being discussed is the concept of art groups coordinating efforts, schedules, and martketing etc. to make an greater economic impact.

A city position would hopefully accomplish that effort. No one is talking about city-funding of arts because Springfield has no dough for such efforts.

As far as a casino goes, the only way it would make a positive economic impact is if the contracts and legsilation is written in such an air-tight way to ensure just how casino dollars are used. I have great confidence that local officials would be up for that task but little confidence that Boston power types wouldn't screw it up.