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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

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7/16/2012 12:01:00 AM
Local group makes offer for Elks Opera House
City declines to release bid's details
Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier, file
The Elks Theater Performing Arts Group has made a proposal to purchase the venerable venue, Above, members of the Phoenix Opera Vocal Ensemble and Orchestra perform “Die Fledermaus – Finale of Act 2” by Johann Strauss II during the theater’s grand re-opening gala in July 2010.
Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier, file
The Elks Theater Performing Arts Group has made a proposal to purchase the venerable venue, Above, members of the Phoenix Opera Vocal Ensemble and Orchestra perform “Die Fledermaus – Finale of Act 2” by Johann Strauss II during the theater’s grand re-opening gala in July 2010.
Cindy Barks
The Daily Courier

PRESCOTT - The historic Elks Opera House could be in the hands of a non-profit organization by September, if a recent purchase proposal for the theater is successful.

A proposal process that began in May could culminate at that time with the close of escrow for the transfer of ownership of the theater from the City of Prescott to the Elks Theater Performing Arts Center.

Officials on both sides say, however, that plenty of negotiations, which will be largely private, will take place before that could happen.

"The proposal is a point of negotiation," Prescott City Manager Craig McConnell said this past week, noting that city officials would meet with organization representatives in coming weeks to work out the details.

And he said that those details would remain private until after City Council members can discuss them in closed-door executive session - probably in August.

After that, McConnell said the information would become public "if there is a draft agreement arrived at which is mutually satisfactory to the parties. Until that occurs, it is still in negotiation."

Meanwhile, McConnell maintained that the details of the Elks Theater Performing Arts Center's proposal are not public information.

"It's not a bid; it's a proposal and not publicly opened because it's proprietary," McConnell said. "Our council members have not seen this proposal."

But Dan Barr, an attorney with the Arizona First Amendment Coalition, said this past week that the document was a public record from the time the city opened it.

The Daily Courier submitted an official public records request to the city on Thursday morning to get a copy of the Elks Theater Performing Arts Center's proposal, as well as the city's appraisal of the theater, but had yet to get a response Friday afternoon, other than an acknowledgement of the receipt of the request.

Neither McConnell nor Kevin Lane, the Elks Theater Performing Arts Center's chief spokesman, would discuss the amount of money the proposal offered for the theater.

"I am not in a position to give the details on that," Lane said Friday. But, he added, "Whatever will be drafted will be impressive."

Although informal discussions have been under way for about two years about the possibility of a non-profit organization taking over ownership of the Elks Opera House, the official process began after the Prescott City Council's budget deliberations in mid-May.

At that time, council members gave consensus approval for the city to advertise for sale of the theater. Driving the decision: the more than $100,000 that the city annually puts into subsidization of the theater.

Budget and Finance Director Mark Woodfill said after the May meeting that the Elks regularly falls short of breaking even, and other city funds go toward paying the difference - money the city would save if the theater were privatized.

A record from the city shows that the theater has been in the red by: $116,810 in fiscal year 2009; $193,979 in 2010 (the year the theater was "dark" because of major renovations); $166,997 in 2011; and $88,031 through June 18 of the past 2012 fiscal year.

Soon after the May budget discussion, the city advertised a request for proposals (RFP) for purchase of the Elks Opera House.

The RFP sought groups or individuals interested in buying the Elks, under a number of strict requirements. For instance, the city would require the new owner to:

• Preserve the theater as a community venue for performing arts and related purposes.

• Maintain the historic quality and integrity of the theater.

• Reinforce and promote mutually beneficial relationships among the theater, downtown businesses, and local government, by serving as an economic generator.

• Achieve, maintain, restore, and preserve the highest quality of historic architectural and interior design.

Lane said the Elks Theater Performing Arts Center group is willing to follow the restrictions, and put in some of its own.

"The deed restrictions, from my client's perspective, would be even more restrictive," Lane said, stressing that the organization aims to develop a "first-class, extensive performing arts center," which would be a top-notch venue for music, dance and acting.

Lane added that the Elks Theater Performing Arts Center stems from the "same principles and family that did the 'Tis Art Gallery (in the historic Knights of Pythias building on Cortez Street). "What you see there as far as's the same players."

Elisabeth Ruffner, the secretary of the Elks Opera House Foundation, also mentioned the quality that went into renovating the Knights of Pythias building for the 'Tis Gallery.

"I'm very pleased," Ruffner said of the group's interest in taking on the Elks Opera House as well. "Personally, I appreciate very much what they've done with that remarkable Knights of Pythias building."

After working for years as advocates and fundraisers for the Elks Opera House, Ruffner noted that the Foundation is now turning to doing productions at the Elks, and she is hopeful that would continue under new owners.

Lane expressed similar hopes. "None of that changes," he said, adding that the Elks Theater Performing Arts Center would be "open to any other local group."

The city conducted a June 29 proposal opening, and received just one proposal - from the Elks Theater Performing Arts Center.

A pre-proposal conference in mid-June generated a number of questions from the group about the requested deed restrictions, as well as the city obligations for the building.

Among other things, the city's written answers included information about the amount of money that has gone into the theater through the years.

"The City of Prescott's contributions for the purchase ($250,000) and various restoration efforts totals $1,382,038," stated the answers. "Additionally, $501,465 in CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) and Heritage Grant funds were obtained through the city's efforts."

The answers also stated that the Elks Opera House foundation has reported contributing $1,528,901 to the theater's major restoration effort. Of that, individual contributions ranged from more than $1.25 million from the James Family Trust, to $500 for the purchase of seats, to smaller contributions, starting at $1 or less in donation boxes.

Related Stories:
• Nonprofit buys top floor of Opera House: Performing arts group wants to purchase entire Elks building
• Elks Opera House sale negotiations end

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, July 19, 2012
Article comment by: Hooty Hoo

Nope, I am not that person. But I was elected to something years back.

Posted: Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Article comment by: We Know Who You Are

@ Hooty Hoo

Of course we know you are a former elected official and now you are on the ballot again!

You supported city monies spent on the Opera House, the infamous golf course, and other
money pits. No doubt you expect to be returned to office, in which case you will do it all over again.

Posted: Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Article comment by: Hooty Hoo

I actually was an elected official at one time.

Posted: Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Article comment by: nothing new concerning negotiations

The policy to keep negotiations private has been around for longer than anyone complaining about it. Just listen to some of you people, and you wonder why no one called you first to see what you thought about the deal. I just hope to God the city is not dickering over the price. Give the thing away if someone legitimate is willing to take it. Put a clause in the deal that they can't make us take it back.

Posted: Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Article comment by: DRIVEL OR TRUTH

Acting on so called drivel, would have save the taxpayer a whole lot of $$$ . But for Norwood and the blundering followers, it has served better to cover it up than to fix the facts . It seems only the driveling fools no the truth . The group of Norwood leftover leaders don't really know what it is they are calling drivel . Truth is the messy city owned holdings are deep deep in the red, and will continue until the drivel is heard and acted upon . This driveling fool is waiting for the day to post those words the leaders fear most --- TRIED TO TELL YA .

Posted: Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Article comment by: GUESS WHAT

If there is an offer, TAKE IT, let this Turkey Fly AWAY, FAR AWAY.

Posted: Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Article comment by: An Observer

@ Hooty Hoo

The quote "Unless you're an elected official, you don't know what you are talking about." is the type of self-serving drivel I would expect from the pompous councilman Steve Blair. He assumes nobody not on the Prescott City Council has any knowledge of what is going on. As usual, his assumption misses the mark by a mile. Some people actually know the party that made the bid. That party also looked at buying the rest of the Elks building but was deterred by the large accumulation of deferred maintenance by the law firm that owns it (including a large amount of asbestos that would have to be removed and a lack of sprinklers).

Posted: Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Article comment by: Longtime Prescott Resident

Re: @ Hooty Hoo

The quote "Unless you're an elected official, you don't know what you are talking about." is reminiscent of many letters and comments authored by Councilman and now (perhaps) former KYCA talk show host) Steve Blair. (Note: Mr. Dayton announced today that he will be doing the morning show 5 days a week.)

One does not have to muse from some vague vantage point in (let's say Colorado) to detect an interesting theory amongst those sitting behind certain podiums. That theory involves dismissing any folks not sitting behind the said podium, as spouting "drivel."

One does not have to go very far to discern the authorship of certain letters. Its hard to understand how some folks who claim to "love Prescott" can reconcile that alleged affection with the contempt so often shown towards many of its residents. It must be horrible to be so full of animus for so many.

Posted: Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Article comment by: Hooty Hoo

Much of the money for the Elks came from the James Foundation, and I bet they are OK with this negotiation. There's no pressing reason to make it all public at this time, I'm sure the interested party has no great interest in the Arizona First Amendment Coalition's getting their nose in it (are they like the ACLU?). Anytime one of these activist groups gets involved the thing starts to smell bad. I'm pretty sick of the trolling lawyers.

Posted: Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Article comment by: @ Hooty Hoo

Please spare us the "omnipotent benevolent god who knows more than you and will save you from yourselves" drivel. Unless you're an elected official, you don't know what you are talking about. If you ARE an elected official, you should be ashamed of yourself.......

Posted: Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Article comment by: TRANSPARENCY PLEASE

I don't know who "Hooty Hoo" is so I have no reason to trust him as he/she has suggested. But, I do know that there is much case law on what constitutes "public information" beyond what is in the law books. I trust Mr. Barr and other attorneys that are in agreement with his opinion. I question the ethics and motivation of those that disagree. If there is nothing to hide. Let the people know about it. Release all the documents and be proud of your accomplishments. The city council and Mayor want to wait until after their executive session because they want to get their stories together for when they ram this thing down people's throats. I agree that the Elks needs to be managed by a private organization but I want to know how much money it is going to cost the taxpayers to make this happen. As a taxpayer I would rather that my tax money be used to upkeep the heritage of Prescott than to line the pockets of another "big box" store. The downtown area is our gem...lets keep it that way. Note to Courier editor and staff: Please continue to press the city government for the documents. Keep the citizens of this community informed as to your success. We have a right to know.

Posted: Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Article comment by: Carl Imparel

Tear it down and put up another Taco Bell...

Posted: Monday, July 16, 2012
Article comment by: THROW IN ANTELOPE HILLS

As part of negotiations, I suggest that the buyers be forced to also tale off the taxpayers' hands the GOLF COURSE.

Package Deal, or none.

Posted: Monday, July 16, 2012
Article comment by: Coyote Contraire™

Just the seats and rows now toward the 8 of them for a little while longer with the new upholstery, until it's over.

Posted: Monday, July 16, 2012
Article comment by: Hooty Hoo

There comes a time when these early negotiations must be made public, but that time is not now. They have the right to hold executive session first. There's a reason for everything trust me.

Posted: Monday, July 16, 2012
Article comment by: Maybe the City Purchasing Manager

should be contacted about this? Oh wait, they just recently laid off the Purchasing Manager. Hmmm, isn't that convenient for the City?

Posted: Monday, July 16, 2012
Article comment by: Captain Crunched

The odd idea that this group of politicians can manage any entity, has been proven over and over again to be a profile in misplaced confidence. The sooner that the Elks is removed from taxpayers largess, the better for us all. Its very sad to contemplate the damage the city's mismanagement has done to our image, whether it is the alleged bullying that caused the Fenech - Castaneda drama, or the alleged retaliation that caused the Riley vs. Kuykendall ( lawsuit.

The Elks came to symbolize more about what is wrong with Prescott than anything which is right with Prescott. It symbolized the fact that even in a case where something positive seemed to be created by the community, it was destroyed by petty dramatics, and classless behaviors. Lets hope it sells, and when it does lets hope a lot of sage is burned to cast out the bad energies that have resided there.

Posted: Monday, July 16, 2012
Article comment by: @ Hooty Hoo

See link to the state of Arizona's Open Records Law. You might want to take a's easy to spout nonsense. Takes a bit more effort to actually get the facts. I believe Mr. Barr might know alittle bit more about this than you.......

Posted: Monday, July 16, 2012
Article comment by: It is not now, and never was, an opera house.

And let's all pray this deal works out, and our mayor and city council will stop throwing money at this Ruffneresque (and friends) white elephant. In a building the city does not completely own! Next in line the wretched money-losing, over-staffed Antelope Hills Gold Course, and its appendages The Manzanita Grill and uselessly rehabbed club house. And then the water ranch!!!

Posted: Monday, July 16, 2012
Article comment by: Hooty Hoo

The negotiations aren't automatically public information right from the get go. Of course some attorney will say otherwise. I can find an attorney to say the opposite. Attorneys are becoming the "new age bookie", who used to take odds and spreads on football games. Personally I think they are more reliable and honest lol.

Posted: Monday, July 16, 2012
Article comment by: Opera House Advocate

Glad that the Courier took the initiative to
break this story, which has been much discussed privately in Prescott over many months. The city apparently remains ignorant of its responsiblity to conduct open processes.

The bidding group was known to be considering such a purchase long before the May RFP was issued.but was said to be holding back out of concern for recent lawsuits and legal issues besetting city government. It has successfully operated similar facilities elsewhere.

It will be good for Prescott and for the Opera House if this transaction goes through.
It will end a long drain on the city budget.
It will end the bulldozing city management efforts by Mic Fenech and others. It also, one would hope, will end the present Foundation's grip on Opera House governance and oversight.
Elizabeth Ruffner has served faithfully. The James family has been exceptionally generous in its support. But many other foundation board members, including many multi-millionaires, have done little to give or raise resources. The city documents make that clear.

The Council should approve this deal before the bidders change their minds.

Posted: Monday, July 16, 2012
Article comment by: Long Over Due

City manages this about as well as it does the golf course. According to the City's website yesterday's play at the Elks was scheduled for 2:30pm. When I showed up at the box office at 2:15 - I was informed the play started at 2pm. If the City can't get the little things like a calendar straight just think how poorly the rest of the business is managed,

Posted: Monday, July 16, 2012
Article comment by: CITIZENS OF PRESCOTT

Please WAKE UP ! before it is too late. Here is yet another example of the new Prescott Regime snubbing their noses at the people in this community that pay taxes and dearly love what Prescott used to be. This Mayor and City Council through their new hand-picked group of city officials are stripping this town of it's legacy. They keep the public in the dark until it is too late to alter the direction of what they have decided to do with public funds and assets in their underground, private, dank and dirty little secret meetings just before their announcements of "what they are going to do" at the council meetings. They consistently violate the "public meeting" laws. If not "in fact" then "in spirit". Tenured employees and department heads are bailing as quickly as they can. If they refuse to retire, they are laid off and replaced with questionable people who will "play ball". Other long time employees who are injured on the job are fired and thrown to the wolves by the new Human Resources "ice princess" that took all the other benefits away from the employees who used to love working for Prescott. PLEASE replace this Mayor and City Council with homespun people with integrity, honesty, openness and a true love for our town. Fire the deceitful and secretive city managers, human resource directors and other department heads who demean the wonderful employees of Prescott who have given so much. This town is in a humanity crisis and the public is being duped by the politics. I wonder what the new interim city attorney thinks about the town doing "secret deals" with public monies while refusing to reveal the details to the citizens of the community. I'll bet he is "right on board". If he isn't, he won't last long.

Posted: Monday, July 16, 2012
Article comment by: Sooprise Sooprise!

I am shocked, SHOCKED, to learn that the City is witholding information that should have been made public months ago. Kudos to The Courier for making good use of public records requests. This kind of obfuscation has been going on FAR too long here in Prescott.

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