Showdown At Sunset
Some locals worry that Carmel is putting Sunset Center out of their reach.
Thursday, August 21, 2003
Photo: Sunset Theater under construction.
Fresh from its $21-million facelift, Carmel''s newly renovated Sunset Center is so darn beautiful it apparently needs two guys to run it: Brian Donaghue, the community and cultural director since 1990; and Tom Bacchetti, hired at the beginning of August as the Center''s "interim general manager."
The two men have slightly overlapping jobs. Donaghue continues to manage the Center''s daily operations, while Bacchetti is in charge of figuring out how to turn the Center from a city department into an independent entity run by a nonprofit corporation.
Still, a chain of command had to be established, and that created a potentially awkward situation. "I didn''t want to have two chiefs, so I assigned everyone [on staff] to answer to Tom, including Brian," says City Administrator Rich Guillen.
The city''s plan, supported by Guillen, Mayor Sue McCloud, and most councilmembers, is to get the cash-sucking Sunset Center off the city''s back and into the hands of a nonprofit corporation, which will, presumably, run it more efficiently. (Those slow-moving wheels of bureaucracy and all.)
That was the recommendation presented to the city in March 2001 by B-Squared Consulting--a group hired to look at possibilities for the Center''s future operation--and then seconded earlier this year by two mayor-appointed ad-hoc committees.
Those reports found, McCloud says, that the Center was being underutilized. There are many groups, she says, eager to rent space, bringing in money for the city. Also, a nonprofit can apply for grants that a city department can''t.
McCloud says the city spent too much to subsidize the old Sunset Center--she doesn''t know exactly how much, since costs were charged to different departments; the city didn''t charge itself when it used the facility; and other casual practices prevailed. That all would change once a nonprofit takes over, she says: "We have a state-of-the-art center, and traditionally a lot of them run in the red. We want to keep the city''s subsidy at a minimum."
It''s all part of the plan to turn Sunset into a "regional center for the performing arts," McCloud says, adding that she "certainly hopes" that within a couple years the Center will be run, if not at a profit, at least not at a loss: "We''re looking at bringing in small conferences and different events."
Not everyone is eager to see Sunset handed over to a new nonprofit with a new managing director and, perhaps, all new staff. The city''s own community and cultural commission looked at the plan and expressed concerns.
"We all agree Sunset is a beautiful place and we don''t want to create dissension in the community over its management," says commission member Carol Hilburn. "We just want it to be successful as a regional performing arts center and a community facility."
Nevertheless, the City Council chose to accept the recommendation of one of McCloud''s ad-hoc committees, and push forward. Councilmember Barbara Livingston was the lone "nay" vote.
"We already have a community and cultural commission, and a cultural director, for Sunset Center," she says. "I see no reason why we shouldn''t add a marketing director to the equation and have the city retain control of its cultural resource rather than have a nonprofit come in. There are already 600 nonprofits competing for dollars locally."
Livingston notes that the council has not seen Bacchetti''s contract, which reportedly gives him $50,000 and free housing for its six-month duration. "There was nothing in the budget for him," she notes. Also, she adds, "it''s important that the community be able to access the Center and rent rooms at a reasonable cost."
That''s Carol Richmond''s concern. As artistic director of Dance Kids of Monterey County, a group that has rented the Sunset Theater twice a year for its productions, she''s afraid a new administrative body will raise rental costs out of reach of her small community group and others like it.
While fees are being maintained at their pre-renovation levels for the remainder of this year, no one knows what will happen afterwards. Guillen says Bacchetti should present his plan to the Council at its November meeting and, if all goes well, that new 501(c)(3) should be in place within six months.
It''s the unknown that irks opponents of the plan. They say they wish the city would be more open, and had a less cavalier attitude towards longtime residents and smaller groups that depend on Sunset Center.
"Why not just hire a marketing director and leave in place the staff that knows and understands the operations as well as the needs of the community?" Richmond suggests. "Is it really the council''s intention to turn our treasure into a convention center?
"Nobody knows what''s going on. Are the fees going up? Will it push out the little guy, like us? There doesn''t seem to be any dialogue at all."