Published On: Tue, Jun 28th, 2011

Operation “Loan Me a Dollar” – subsidy abuse (Which Shelby newspaper has refused to publish anything about this?)

How poetic that a group with the name of Southern Culture on the Skids made the definitive statement regarding the situation with the Don Gibson Theatre. And their name exemplifies exactly what’s happening with all this tourism hoopla, wrapped in grants, tourism, and the “we will build it and they will come” narrative. This group was here at the Don Gibson Theatre on May 21, 2011. Remember that date? That’s when the world was supposed to end and the rapture was to occur. One of the members of the group even made a comment that it might have happened since there weren’t many people there that night. I have no problem with the Don Gibson Theatre, nor do I have a problem with having the Don Gibson Theatre. What I have a problem with are the things I will describe below.

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? If you recall, the old State Theater building was leased to Destination Cleveland County, sometime in October 2007, for a duration of 4 years, for a sum of $1 per year, with an option to buy for the assessed value of $207,137. The City Council also approved a matching grant for half a million dollars, that if DCC would raise half a million dollars, then the city would give DCC the $500,000 grant. DCC also received several more grants and contributions for this project as well. Next, the upgrades they had done to the building by Morrison Construction, also of Shelby, was said to be estimated at $2.3 million, at that time.

Now, the current tax assessment of this property is listed at somewhere between 1.2 and 1.3 million dollars, plus the fact, from what I understand, if DCC does purchase the building, they would be exempt from taxes on the place. Now, let’s compound that with another fact that the City of Shelby also sponsors the events at the Don Gibson Theatre, as does the hospital, along with First National Bank. Why does the City of Shelby continue to pump money into a project that is getting break after break, but cannot support itself?

I’m told by several different people that many tickets are given away at pretty much all events. I even had some folks tell me there could be as many as two-thirds of the tickets were given away, so that the “artists” would not be embarrassed by the small crowd. I thought it was very telling that when David Jenkins, the former Executive Director of The Don Gibson Theatre said in his exit interview,

“In parting, I’d just say that I hope everyone understands how extremely unusual it is for a town of this size to have a venue like the Gibson and an organization like Destination Cleveland County, and to have Grammy Award-winning acts and performers with gold and platinum albums coming through town,” Jenkins said. “It’s critically important that folks buy tickets to these events if they believe in what we’re trying to do.”

In my opinion, the first part of the statement was enough to standalone, without the qualifier regarding the “if they believe in what we’re trying to do”, but I haven’t talked with Mr. Jenkins, but I wish that I could, to see if this could be confirmed. Of course, I expect the local media to pounce on this and scream “Debbie Downers” once again, even though the facts are laid out there. The only thing I’m complaining about is this money pit, that the city and county keep tossing money into.

Moving to part two, let’s look at why DCC refers to the old courthouse as the historic old courthouse when it will be anything but that, once the Earl Scruggs Center opens. It will have lost that brand immediately, as well as the personality that it once held. You can’t have it both ways. It’s either the historic old courthouse, or it’s the new and improved Earl Scruggs Center. Also, there is talk on the street that they want to do away with all the monuments there and place them at another location. So much for our historical image and such. DCC is actually hooking up with our school system and having the Earl Scruggs Center and his history as part of the curriculum.

Here’s this from the City of Shelby City Council minutes from March 2011 –

Moving forward with many components for the Earl Scruggs Center: Project total is approximately $5 million, continuing to seek funding for $1 million; DCC and Cleveland County Schools integrating Earl Scruggs Center content into the core curriculum; branding platform and marketing plan under development.

Some things you can’t teach in our schools regarding the Confederate Days, but it’s fine to inject some Earl Scruggs history into the mix? What horse did he ride in the Battle of Kings Mountain? What land did he battle for during these times? The only dueling that might have been was possibly Dueling Banjos, but I doubt that counts in the history department. Or at least, it hasn’t counted in the past. Why are people trying to make Earl Scruggs into something that he is absolutely not? He is a great banjo picker and musician. He is not a revolutionary hero. His history regarding Cleveland County is music, and nothing more. He won no wars or conquered any enemies. He’s simply a mill hill banjo picker than hit the big time. That’s not a degradation, that’s just a fact.

And while we are debating that, let’s look at a couple of other things here, shall we?

Earl Scruggs, more than likely, will not be buried in Shelby or Cleveland County. On the other hand, Don Gibson was laid to rest in the hometown that he loved. To my knowledge, Earl Scruggs has never come back home without leaving with some of the folks’ hard-earned money, as well as our tax dollars, say for instance on those signs that bear his name out on the highways. I’m not knocking the guy. I’m only trying to show the difference in the treatment of these two individuals. Sure, Earl Scruggs is a treasure to this area, but I’d also say that Don Gibson doesn’t have to take a back seat to anyone. His accomplishments are nothing to sneer at. Also, his widow lives here, and has continued to live her life filled with love and class, and continues to share her late husband’s music and life with the rest of us, while not seeking any rewards or attention.

All this information regarding the Don Gibson Theatre has no bearing on the late Mr. Gibson, nor his wife. The goings-on lies squarely on the shoulders of The City of Shelby and the leadership thereof. It’s a sad situation when people such as police and/or firefighters lose their jobs because we’re out of money, but yet, there’s plenty of it to back a concert in town, due to the perceived incompetence of others who can’t run a business. I realize it’s a non-profit, but come on. This project seems to be the poster child for how not to run a non-profit. It’s making that Randy Parton guy look really competent.

Think about it. No property taxes collected, more money being shelled out on a regular basis, tickets being allegedly given away, plus the fact that 3 people. 2 females and one male have been either laid off or quit, so I’ve heard. Why? Are the numbers bogus regarding all these numbers being tossed about concerning the hotel/motel/hospitality taxes, and the increase in attendance? I mean, if you’re handing out freely, a bunch of tickets to each event, then the numbers will artificially inflate, but the bottom line will come back and bite you on the butt. Maybe someone needs to look at the books on this issue since it is indeed funded by the city and the county, as well as the state…and that makes it the business of the taxpayers, does it not? Can they even come up with $1 per year for the lease? Or is that funded too?

We keep hearing how these venues will be “energy efficient”, but will they be self-sufficient? Read on.

Back in April, 2011, the City of Shelby allowed DCC to sign a lease for 4 more years regarding the Don Gibson Theatre, at $1 per year. Also, they are paying $100,000 per year to help with the salaries of DCC and FDIC, etc. as well as $370,000 for 1 year to help pay expenses, plus the salary of Stan Lowery, Executive Director of the Don Gibson Theatre. So, if attendance is up, and everything is rosy, why is the place still so dependent on the taxpayer’s money? I realize the place is not going to make money the first year. I also realize that DCC is a non-profit, but their project should not be a non-profit. With 400 seats at a price of say, $30, comes to $12,000. This is hardly a substantial amount of money, considering the acts that perform there are not always cheap, but giving a ridiculous amount of tickets away is rather dumb.

Why would our leaders continue to enable this entity when the evidence clearly shows that they cannot support themselves? What will it take? There is not a whole lot of money left out there to pass around, with all the economic problems that we are facing today. It makes no sense to continue to do the same old thing that has not been working for several years, does it? Should the City and County be looking for new executives to lead DCC? Apparently, those in power at this time have no clue as to how a business operates on its own. I don’t hold the employees responsible for the handling of the Don Gibson Theatre. That responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of the executives of DCC, who are in charge of paying bills, writing checks, and making intelligent decisions.

So, I have to ask DCC, when will you all become self-sufficient? When will you be able to stand alone, without the training wheels of the City of Shelby propping you up? You will have had eight years of pretty much rent-free times, at $1 per year, with only the utilities and such to be paid, since the City of Shelby has paid your major bills and salaries, and your various sponsors have picked up the slack. Could the City of Shelby make us the same kind of deal? A building where we could rent for a buck per year, plus all or most of our expenses paid for by the City? Give me four years to make money, paying $1 per year rent, plus hundreds of thousands of dollars thrown my way to help ease the burden, and I guarantee you I can find a way to make a profit.

One thing can be said of our leadership, both in the County and the City. They all deserve to be tossed out on their butts. Why should they continue to serve, or be re-elected, when they keep on serving as terrible stewards with the money that has been paid by the people? Are they serving all the people? Nope. I realize The Star will shuffle in here and claim a foul by our side, but what the heck. They’re as guilty as our leaders, in helping to cover up and perpetuate this mess. This is my opinion, anyway.

The above snapshot shows how the City of Shelby, decided to grant DCC even more money, of which they can pay salaried employees, plus the Director of the Don Gibson Theatre. They are also providing them with funds to pay their FICA taxes. And they are also providing another $150,000 for “other expenses”, of which all were approved by The City Council, the City Manager, and the Mayor.

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