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SHORT STREET ART SHORT-CHANGED? As garage costs skyrocket, Percent for Art argument heats up

Price of Columbia garage jumps 61%, but Percent for Art stays flat       
 
COLUMBIA, 1/29/12  (Beat Byte) -- City leaders may be short-changing what Addison Myers, chair of the Commission on Cultural Affairs, calls "the gateway to Columbia's arts districts" -- the Short Street garage Percent for Art project. 
 
Under a 1997 City of Columbia ordinance, the Short Street garage is allocated one percent (1%) of construction costs for art projects.  
 
Those costs have jumped a whopping 61% since last March, from a $7 million estimate to $11.3 million today.   By law excluding land expenses of $1.25 million, a 1% allocation is $100,500. 
 
But the percent for art has remained what it was as of the original estimate over one year ago:  $70,000.   Minus admin and other costs leaves a measly $47,000 for an artist commission, or 0.47% of the garage's new price tag -- less than half the program's much-touted title, which has been used as a City Hall promotional tool in dozens of news stories over the years.   
 
With numbers that could leave Columbia's artists proclaiming, "We are the Half-Percenters," some Heart Beat readers worry Percent for Art could be drifting toward cheap lip service, this time from politicians using the art program to gloss over an issue that has enraged scores of Columbia residents -- skyrocketing costs for giant garages.   
 
Other readers see another promise broken.  
 
Even City of Columbia cultural affairs manager Chris Stevens -- long a Columbia arts scene leader -- seems befuddled by the Short Street Percent for Art gap.   The Heart Beat earlier interviewed Stevens after a reader noticed Short Street garage costs had spiked from $7 million to $9 million without any increase in the arts percentage.    
 
Now, as garage costs have soared to $11.3 million, "I am sorry to say that I don't have any additional information to share other than to say, I'm working on it," Stevens told the Heart Beat for this second story.   "As Manager of the Office of Cultural Affairs, it is my responsibility to make sure that the Percent for Art ordinance is followed."  

Stevens attached the ordinance, which reads in part, "the City shall set aside one percent (1%) of the cost of all above ground capital improvement projects which exceed $1,000,000 (excluding land costs) to fund the creation and placement of public art."  The ordinance specifically includes "parking structures."  
 
For Short Street, Percent for Art monies come from the city's fee-driven parking utility fund, not the general fund, and so add no expense either to the city budget or bond debt financing the garage.   

"Believe me, if there is a possibility to increase the award for the Short Street Garage project, I will do what I can to make sure that we do not 'short change' the art," Stevens explained.  

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