Poe had a way to pay for all this. He wanted to use leftover construction funds from the 1994 convention center expansion. Poe knew that these monies are available; he also knew that they were in imminent jeopardy of being spent for the arena.
Poe knew his bosses were eyeing the convention center money because back in December, Ware's arena project director asked the public works department to report how much money was left over from the expansion. The answer: $3.75 million, according to a December 21 memo.
Poe had other requests, too.
He wanted about $2 million from the city's capital reserve fund for some "Priority Two" projects, including an upgrade of the meeting rooms, corridors, and restrooms in the old part of the convention center. He also told Ware that beyond all those immediate, urgent needs, it would take $15 million more to bring the entire center up to the standard of the 1994 expansion.
On March 3, public works interim director Jill Jordan weighed in on the issue. In a memo, she reminded Assistant City Manager Ted Benavides that, while City Hall arena promoters were licking their chops about the unspent money, the convention center "could be in jeopardy" if the funds weren't saved for finishing the needed improvements there.
Silly department heads.
Ware has clearly made the call that the convention center's future success is worth risking for the new arena. Because in the June 14 executive briefing packet, Ware claims that--on top of the $35 million--$2.5 million in "remaining convention center construction funds" is available for the arena, as is $10.4 million in "capital improvement funds."
Which would leave no money--and no possibility of borrowing any--for the convention center.
This approach is foolhardy. When the convention center bookings begin to drop--and the only reason we have bookings today is because they were made four and five years ago--so will revenues. And when convention center revenues drop, hotel and drink taxes will have to cover the center's annual debt payments. But if we have fewer conventioneers in town, those taxes will fall off too. And when those taxes decline, it will mean not only debt-payment problems for the center--but for the new arena as well.
Frank Poe, a good company man who nonetheless sees where this arena obsession is going, wrote Suhm in another March 22 memo: "I realize discussions are ongoing regarding the 'new arena' project. However, we need some direction regarding movement on the projects noted with the material attached."
Direction? I think it's called down the tubes.
Former councilman Glenn Box, a big arena proponent, has always been wonderful about returning Observer phone calls and being open and polite to us on the telephone--even though he makes it clear that he disagrees vehemently with the Observer's criticism of plans for a new arena.
Well, now we know how he really feels.
Box sometimes gets letters from people who read this column, which--as you may know--has focused on the arena in some detail over the past year. In fact, Box has gotten so many of these letters, he's developed a standard reply. We found several copies of it in his files.
"Dear So and So: Thank you so very much for your recent letter concerning the proposed new arena. I am afraid that you have your facts completely backwards...
"Unfortunately, you have chosen to believe the distortions, misrepresentations and outright lies of an ultra-liberal Laura Miller regarding this arena..."
John Ware and his deputies have dedicated the resources of their office for 18 months toward getting arena shovels into the dirt--and neither persistence, nor stealth, nor blatant skullduggery has made much headway.
And so they dream.
They lie upon their office couches--or so we imagine--loafers off, eyeglasses pulled down on the bulbs of their noses, and they try to think up ways to make the whole deal work.
Like what to do with the old arena if we build a new one next door.
Consider what they've come up with on that one. On January 11, public works architect Louise Elam sent Mike Marcotte, the arena-project director, a memo. It was soberly written, but for the life of me I don't see how.