Tobin Center for the Performing Arts Board Chairman J. Bruce Bugg Jr. asked Bexar County Commissioners top contribute a little more than $7.5 million for half of a nearly$16 million parking garage that will be built on a triangular lot at the corner of Taylor and 4th Streets, a short walk away from the Tobin Center. Bugg is expected to ask Mayor Ivy Taylor and City Council to contribute the other half.
The City and the County had previously agreed to pay for design and construction a $10 million parking garage. The additional $6 million is needed to cover unanticipated design and construction costs, which total $15,970,200.
Despite the hefty new price tag, a rendering of the garage’s design drew praise. Commissioner Kevin Wolff (Pct. 3) said it is reminiscent of the iconic Flatiron Building in New York City.
“It has been designed to blend in very well with neighborhood architecture,” said Tobin President and CEO Michael Fresher.
During the presentation, Fresher noted that the Tobin Center incurred a $100,000 operating loss from parking during Fiscal Year 2015.
The parking garage is in its 50% design phase, and in the next few weeks the Tobin Center will demolish the buildings on the existing lot to begin construction.
“We need to ensure that people will know where they are going to park when they come down to the Tobin Center and it is not going to be some kind of guessing game,” Bugg said. “We all know too well that when people are invited to come downtown the first thing that runs through their mind is, ‘Where am I going to park?’”
The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts board decided during a meeting in May to borrow money for the garage in anticipation that the City and County would reimburse the costs.
No decisions were made on Tuesday regarding Bugg’s new funding appeal. Some commissioners expressed concerns about other Tobin Center business operations, namely the affordability of the performing arts venue and events booked there. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and Commissioners Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) and Paul Elizondo (Pct. 2) questioned the rates the Tobin Center charges the Opera San Antonio, the San Antonio Symphony, and Ballet San Antonio to perform there.
“We all know how difficult it is for them financially to do well,” Judge Wolff said.
“We have to run the Tobin Center on a business-like basis,” Bugg said, adding that the Tobin Center offers local organizations subsidized rates and provides some free office space to reduce their operating costs. The Tobin Center subsidizes local performing arts groups by charging higher rates for out-of-town acts, Bugg said.
“These local organizations always stand the risk of going out of business and right now,” Calvert said.
Commissioner Elizondo expressed concern with the amount of money Bexar County has invested into the Tobin Center rather than projects in his precinct.
“Probably most of the events that are held in the Tobin Center, people I represent may not be able to afford, or can’t afford, which was constructed with their investment,” he said.
The parking garage, Calvert said, could generate daytime revenue such as business lunches. Bugg recalled a meeting he had with Mayor Ivy Taylor last week to discuss the future of the parking garage. Mayor Taylor asked Bugg if the City could use the parking garage when not in use by the Tobin Center during daytime hours.
“I told (the Mayor), ‘Absolutely,’” Bugg said.
Bexar County invested $108 million of the $203 million spent transforming the old Municipal Auditorium into the Tobin Center. The City of San Antonio contributed the Municipal Auditorium and the Fire Department Headquarters building, valued together at $41 million. The Bexar County Performing Arts Foundation, led by Bugg, raised $54 million from private donors. The Tobin name for the Center was secured with a $15 million matching grant from the Tobin Endowment, where Bugg serves as chairman and trustee.
The Commissioners Court began its Tuesday session with a viewing of Spanish Colonial archival documents. The historical documents, which help tell the story of Bexar County and San Antonio, will be on display in the Double-Height Courtroom on the second floor of the Bexar County Courthouse Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The exhibit is free and open to the public and will remain on display until February 2016.
The temporary exhibit, titled “Nuestra Historia: Our History,” includes maps, plans, letters, documents, and paintings that depict Spain’s activity in and near Bexar County during the Spanish Colonial period. The maps on display show all of the expeditions that took place when Spaniards were exploring this area, said Betty Bueché, director of the Bexar Heritage and Parks Department.
The documents are replicas of original documents that will arrive to San Antonio in the spring of 2016 for about a six month period. At that time, the exhibit will be on display at 126 E. Nueva Street, just south of the Courthouse.
*Top image: The parking garage resembles the Flat iron Building in New York City. Image courtesy of the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.