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  (ARCHIVES)Back to Current
Follow the money (11/18/2007)
By John Edstrom

Last Tuesday, City Hall traipsed three architectural firms through downtown Winona, to measure the feasibility of three sites for a theater and conference center for the great River Shakespeare Festival. The city failed to give the public notice of this meeting, nor all but one of the media, a practice patently illegal. A preliminary analysis of the whole project makes evident why its close scrutiny by anyone, let alone a skeptical media, may not be wanted by its adherents in city government and elsewhere.

This enterprise is being funded in the short term by a state grant of $250,000 for the feasibility study, which will be spent on the architectural firm coming forth with the best "Feasibility and Programming Study and PreDesign for a Multi-Purpose Theater/Conference Center," according to the Request for Proposals sent out by the city. The winner is supposed to choose not only the best site and design for the facility, but also identify the possible demand and support for it, and basically provide a business plan for a multi-purpose structure and enterprise owned by a public/private partnership. Early estimates of its cost ranged from $20 to $30 million.

Meanwhile, the average boob on the street, though unqualified to provide consulting services to government, knows that the GRSF schedule ran for one month last summer, and even its most fervent and optimistic supporters, (among whom this newspaper may be numbered) do not foresee its run being greatly extended in the near future. (It is unfortunate and reprehensible that GRSF is made to play the heavy in razing the Wilkie and shamefully abusing its volunteers, when GRSF is not clamoring for and, at this point, doesn't need its own theater.) There are various other events which a facility might host, the new Beethoven Festival being prominently mentioned, but at this point it is running roughly concurrent with GRSF.

Obviously, then, the private component of this "partnership" is going to have to do the heavy lifting in bringing it business and requiring its use. What would it be, aside from the hotel/convention center most often postulated? In any case, why wouldn't that private party necessarily do the research on what needs exist, and what sort of enterprise they might support? What possible idea would an architectural firm have about such matters that a private enterprise already engaged in them already knows entirely, and much more?

Whether a hotel chain might step up to erect such a facility is a good question. Winona is about to add another 100 rooms out next to the Holiday Inn, the very minimum a conference center would require. And a downtown location would not attract much additional, transient business that a highway location would. The entity needed to judge whether such a facility could succeed is the one that might build it.

The only other possibility that comes to mind for the levee is condominiums, such as have been recently built up in Wabasha along their riverfront. There has been no mention of any such thing by City Hall, as one might imagine.

Meanwhile, there is that $250,000 in state moolah, earmarked to study the feasibility of a facility for which there is no identified need. (It breaks the heart, however, to think how well those dollars could have been used as additional seed money for GRSF.) It will be interesting to see how they are spent, and to what practical purpose. The Post will try to stay on top of this for you, if only we can get notice of the relevant meetings.



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