Changes in store for financially plagued Beverly Arts Center?
BY HEDY WEISS AND STEVE METSCH Staff Reporters August 30, 2012 2:36PM
The Beverly Arts Center | File photo
Updated: October 1, 2012 5:50PM
A new vision for the financially troubled Beverly Arts Center is under consideration.
Programs or lunches for senior citizens, park district activities, and events that would draw larger crowds from a wider region are among the ideas that could help save the center after a threatened foreclosure and leadership shake-up, officials said Thursday.
Whatever it takes, the center “is not going to disappear,” Chicago Ald. Matt O’Shea (D-19th) said.
The arts center has been a staple in the community for more than 40 years, the last 10 at a 40,000-square-foot facility at 2407 W. 111th St. It bills itself as a “multicultural center that offers fine arts education, programming and entertainment for all ages.”
But the center owes Fifth Third Bank $4.5 million on its mortgage, according to BAC board president William Figel, and it has been unable to pay annual principal mortgage payments of $150,000, according to state Sen. Ed Maloney (D-18th).
The bank wanted a change in leadership and a change in direction, Maloney said Thursday, and that resulted in the Aug. 21 firing of center director Mike Nix.
“There is a definite need for some shared tenancy,” Maloney said. “One possibility is for it to join with the Chicago Park District, which also would enable the center to get public funding.
“The bank feels that’s the key, that even increased programming will not be enough to support the center and pay its bills.”
Maloney said he has talked to city officials about other possible tenants, and he believes revenue from park district programs could help pay the mortgage.
Maloney said the center’s money troubles are partially due to an inability to draw from outside the Beverly, Morgan Park and Mount Greenwood communities.
“The neighborhood responded very well to the arts center. ... but it needs to be a regional attraction more than a neighborhood attraction,” he said. “I’m not an expert in marketing, but to be a regional attraction, it needs representation from Hyde Park, the South Loop and Palos Park.”
Figel disputed Maloney’s assertion, saying patrons already visit the center from Orland Park, Tinley Park, Frankfort, Palos Park and other communities.
He was angered by the firing of Nix, who had been executive director for nine years.
“Mike is uniquely qualified to run the arts center, always has been, always will be,” Figel said.
“That’s what I told the board, but the board ultimately decided to adhere to the bank’s wishes.”
Figel said that while the center owes the bank $4.5 million, “you need to understand that original cost was $5 million. Design changes and cost overruns pushed it up to $12 million. That’s what (Nix) inherited when he walked in the front door.”
Nix said he paid more than $5 million in loan and interest fees to the bank since he became the executive director on Aug. 21, 2003, nine years to the day before he was fired.
Nix said Thursday he has never been told the exact reason for his dismissal,
“As I was told, somebody’s gotta be the fall guy,” Nix said. “I was never given an answer, just that the bank wanted me out. The bank wanted me to resign.
“The board asked for my resignation in July. I would not resign because I had done nothing wrong. I’ve been here for nine years, and I’ve taken an operation that was running horribly in the red to an operation running in the black. I created a brand that is recognized around the country, and we now get nationally known performers, members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, to perform here.”
Enrollment in classes, which had hovered at about 200 at the center, is up to 1,400 or 1.500 for some classes, he said.
Maloney said there “was some frustration” over the firing among board members who thought Nix did a good job.
“They were reluctant (to fire him),” Maloney said. “The option was doing this to move forward, or have the place closed. I think Mike did a good job in terms of getting programs in and people in, but apparently it wasn’t enough.”
Maloney called the arts center “one of the best assets in my district” but hopes it can be marketed better.
“How can they market it better? I never could spend money on marketing because I had to give all the money to the bank,” Nix said.
Figel said the bank often was asked to be a partner, perhaps by sponsoring the theater, but that it was reluctant to help.
“If they were really a curious bank,” Figel said, playing on Fifth Third’s new slogan, “they’d figure out a way to partner with the center.”
David Garcia, Fifth Third’s special assets group vice president, did not return a call Thursday.
Figel also resigned as the center’s board president, effective Sept. 17. He said his resignation was announced earlier this year and was not forced by the bank.
Nora Ferstead, Nix’s assistant, was named interim director. The board was expected to conduct a search for a new executive director, Maloney said.
Nix said he has “no idea” what the future holds for the center.
“The bank has talked about the need for different programming but hasn’t said what that may be,” he said.