December 4, 2008

I have never understood how the immense, ultra-glamorous Overture Center fit Madison.

Now, there are huge financial problems, and big cut-backs have been announced. I know these are economic hard times, but how was this immense architectural monument ever deemed viable in our small city? I often wander in there, looking for something to buy tickets to, and the offerings are nowhere near commensurate with the ambitious size of the place. So, they're cutting back jobs and shows, but they can't shrink the building -- which never seemed to offer more than we were already getting at the much smaller arts center we already had.

Here's the PDF of the announcement.
The approved budget includes deep cuts to administrative costs....

Overture Center leadership will host a series of ‘‘community conversations’’ at various places around Dane County through the spring, inviting people to share their thoughts regarding Overture Center’s future.
You know what that means. They want us taxpayers to pay for the insane hubris that made them take over an entire city block and build it up with extra theaters and giant expanses of glass and marble.

38 comments:

Diamondhead said...

The same thing happened in The Simpsons. They turned their over-ambitious performing arts center into a privately-run prison.

BJK said...

They want us taxpayers to pay for the insane hubris that made them take over an entire city block and build it up with extra theaters and giant expanses of glass and marble.

Asking for taxpayers to shoulder the burden for hubris is par for the course in Madison; the only difference is that the burden can't be pushed off on the rest of the state this time.

peter hoh said...

What the hell do they think they host, a professional sports team?

TosaGuy said...

Maybe they can turn it into a bike light store and mattress disposal center.

Trooper York said...

I think it is all Nanny Bloomberg's fault.

That's why we need term limits!

Beth said...

For a minute I thought I was reading about a large sports complex built with taxpayer dollars in a tiny Alaska town by a fiscally conservative mayor.

george grady said...

They're going to do the same thing here in Tallahassee, FL, building an enormous performing arts center. Tallahassee and Madison seem to have quite a bit in common, so I fully expect it to be a debacle here, too.

campy said...

So it's not actually true that If You Build It, They Will Come?

Maguro said...

For a minute I thought I was reading about a large sports complex built with taxpayer dollars in a tiny Alaska town by a fiscally conservative mayor.

I had no doubt that the Governor of Alaska was somehow connected to this.

What is the average number of comments in a random Althouse thread before someone refers to Sarah Palin? Must be under 15.

Bob said...

These will be the same people you wish to have run your health care system, your auto industry, and the banks.

laura said...

No, it was an endowment, then an arts board, that started this whole sorted affair.

Jim said...

Are you suggesting that Marimba + Computer doesn't fill the joint to Standing Room Only?

Joe said...

Sports club, eh? How about they turn the center into a gun club? Or a bicyclists extreme fighting center?

Original Mike said...

When they built this thing operating expenses were to come from the investment earnings of an endowment. I remember a report of this at the time, in which they gave the assumed investment return. I don't remeber now what the figure was, but I do remember at the time thinking "They're counting on a return of X??!!?? Who do they think they're kidding? They're either idiots, or they're planning to come to the taxpayers a few years down the road to make up the shortfall." And that, of course, was well before the recent financial difficulties.

TitusCares4u said...

My mother knows some people that gave big money to that thing. Their names are somewhere on a brick inside the place.

I attended some God awful Broadway piece of crap there once. I thought to myself this town is never going to support this monster.

How is that lake front Frank Lloyd Wright knockoff doing? What goes on in that building?

Once you leave downtown Madison you are in Wisconsin. The east and west and north and south sides are absolutely horrible. Strip mall and chain restaurant heaven.

And mother please stop telling me that Door County is like Cape Cod. It is not.

Madison is much better than Tallahassee or however you spell it.

TitusCares4u said...

Madison magazine voted Pedros best mexican restaurant-enough said.

TitusCares4u said...

I love Madison and Wisconsin though.

It is my home and I grew up working it in the city. I was going to fag bars when I was 15 and by the time I was 16 I knew I needed to see more and by the time I was 17 I was out of there only to return for holidays and summer vacation. For being a so called liberal city and gay friendly city the gays themselves are pretty dreadful.

But I always feel that Madison thinks it is more fabulous than it is.

Pete Gruett said...

Well that'll teach Jerry Frautschi to give the city a fifth of a billion dollars. I just saw Madison Opera give the best performance I've ever seen them stage to a packed house but screw them and the free-art-museum they rode in on for thinking anybody here had the ability to appreciate things like the larger stage, superior acoustics/sight-lines and adequate lobby space. Nice things are for big cities, not lowly Midwestern college towns.

If they expected us to take some pride or ownership in our community in the biggest economic downturn since the great depression, they were sorely mistaken!

Pogo said...

Hah!
We have the same vacant lot with walls in our town. Ours is clad in copper and aluminum, blinding drivers and passsersby who dare glance upon it. Designed in the Brutalist style, it is ugly ugly ugly.

And mostly empty.
And very much in the red.


I propose they let both of these husks remain fallow, but rename them "Monument to Liberal Hubris", although that would be redundant.

TitusCares4u said...

I think the "lobby" if you can call it that in The Overture Center is awful. Too many angles and not enough of a grand open space. Yes it is tall but it is cut up by the staircases and all the angles.

I am starting to get horny again. I started back at the gym today after a month hiatus. Working out gets me horny. All the tankeys around me got me excited.

TitusCares4u said...

I hate the music they play in pornos.

TitusCares4u said...

Althouse, you are missing many huge sales on fabulous designer duds in the city.

70% off at Saks and Bloomings.

Girl, it is a smorgasboard of fabulousness.

TitusCares4u said...

I purchased the cutest Prada gym bag for 200.00 today. Originally $1000.00

David said...

"So it's not actually true that If You Build It, They Will Come?"

Oh, they will come, but they won't pay enough to cover operating expenses.

The assumption that the operating endowment would earn 9% was foolhardy. A lot of supposedly smart people are looking foolish these days.

Simon said...

Well, what was the marginal cost of each additional square foot in terms of build and maintenance? If you have a facility of any size, you're going to have to pay bills and maintenance staff, and if the costs imposed by extra square footage are nominal - say your outlay rises by only .5% for each additional 5% of space under roof, it might make sense to have a somewhat larger building than needs call for.

Simon said...

Beth, surely there's a difference between a facility with broad appeal in the community that can anticipate significant, frequent use, such as a sports center, and a facility that appeals to an extremely narrow sector of the community and that will be used relatively infrequently? This is apples and oranges, not bricks and mortar.

Methadras said...

Oh come on, Ann. Didn't you know that it's now the responsibility of government to extol the virtues and takeover of land to bring the finest in fine art and dining? I mean if it wasn't for the government capturing entire city blocks and locations to revamp them into an image of reconstruction and Renaissance then what is government good for? Boo, hiss. You should be ashamed to criticize such a noble cause. Remember, it's for your greater good.

Beth said...

There might be a difference such as you specify in minute detail, Simon. But that's not true of the center Palin built that left the small town in debt.

Michael_H said...

Nothing costs more than a free building.

Great thing about the Overture Center, however, is that after it fails as a performance venue, it can be re-purposed as a totally awesome fern bar and restaurant. It can't fail as a bar, what with the university and the state gov being nearby.

AJ Lynch said...

"We have the same vacant lot with walls in our Town". by Pogo

"Nothing costs more than a free building" y Michael H.

Those were gems! LOL.

Ann Althouse said...

"Well that'll teach Jerry Frautschi to give the city a fifth of a billion dollars. I just saw Madison Opera give the best performance I've ever seen them stage to a packed house but screw them and the free-art-museum they rode in on for thinking anybody here had the ability to appreciate things like the larger stage, superior acoustics/sight-lines and adequate lobby space. Nice things are for big cities, not lowly Midwestern college towns."

Yes, there is occasionally a good opera, but there are mostly empty nights and schlocky musicals and second rate performers. Acrobats, etc. All that empty space is not aesthetically pleasing. They should have apportioned the money -- it was a lot of money -- more wisely. It's not acceptable for the elite to come to the people -- mostly people who don't go to those expensive and mostly schlocky shows -- for more money. They had their money, and they spent it unwisely.

As for the museum, yes it is huge and showy, but very few people use it. I go there, and some of the stuff is good. Much of it is embarrassing junk.

If you are worried about people being "lowly" and "midwestern," what, really, is more small time than trying too hard to be super high class?

AlphaLiberal said...

This was predicted. But the rich guy got to tear down buildings, including a very nice deli and the army surplus store.

It's a cool hall and all. I saw the Truly Amazing Loon there last Holiday season.

Michael_H said...

"They should have apportioned the money -- it was a lot of money -- more wisely"

Just a guess....there was a committee involved in the planning, right? Committees are the anti-christ of success.

peter hoh said...

You might think it's too small for tractor pulls and monster truck rallies, but maybe not.

Michael_H said...

"You might think it's too small for tractor pulls and monster truck rallies"

It's Madison. The tractors would have to be owned by non-corporate, family-owned sustainable farm co-ops and be fueled with biodiesel manufactured from hemp.

The monster trucks would have to be solar powered, which would be a problem in an indoor venue.

dick said...

Beth,

The town paid off the mortgage early on that sports center. You forgot to mention that.

Pete Gruett said...

I suppose I have a little more to add.

Ann, anybody who knows anything about large performance venues will tell you that, whatever your aesthetic judgment of it (the lobby's gorgeous from the inside) massive open lobby space is entirely necessary. You have to have room in the lobby for the capacity of the hall (Overture Hall seats 2400). Try seeing even a moderately well-attended concert at Mills Hall in the Humanities Building and you'll see what I mean when you walk out.

Dave, your retort to Beth brings up an interesting point. The Wasilla sports center cost a town of 6000 over $15 million. The liquidation of the trust fund paid off $87 million of Overture's remaining ~$105 million in debt. With Frautschi himself paying off a further ten million over the next two years, unless the interest rate is absurd, a city 40 times the size of Wasilla will be left with a significantly smaller debt and some of the operating expenses of a center that is larger than the old Civic Center but just made major staff and budgetary cuts.

Yes, lots of people use it. Yes, lots of people like it. Worst-case, it'll cost the average taxpayer a cup of coffee.

Ann Althouse said...

"Ann, anybody who knows anything about large performance venues will tell you that, whatever your aesthetic judgment of it (the lobby's gorgeous from the inside) massive open lobby space is entirely necessary. You have to have room in the lobby for the capacity of the hall (Overture Hall seats 2400). Try seeing even a moderately well-attended concert at Mills Hall in the Humanities Building and you'll see what I mean when you walk out."

I think the lobby looks nice, but the whole complex is much larger than it needs to be. There are 2 large theaters (plus another theater). What are they doing there, what crowds are they drawing, that requires all that? Most nights there is nothing at all there. There are times of year when nothing goes on. It's not the rich cultural center I expected. There are the same dumb acts that used to come to Oscar Meyer before the project started. Yes, the seats and sightlines are better, but that could have been done in the Oscar Meyer space.

I'm not saying anything looks ugly. I'm just saying it's way big for what the town can support and way out of proportion to the acts that come through these parts.

Also, presumably Madisonians are environmentalists. That's a lot of empty space to heat and air condition. That lobby has not just floor space, but a lot of open "air space." How may SUV-years worth of fossil fuel pours through that thing every year? For what? So elderly white people can see operas? So children can watch a juggler?

It's not acceptable to make all those mistakes and then come to the taxpayers for a bailout. It was profligate overspending by people who were dazzled by a rich man's contribution. That money was mishandled.

And our taxes are already waaaaay too high. I pay $12,000 a year in property taxes and I'm sick of the way it is wasted.

Meanwhile, our mayor still wants to build his train set.