CLOUDS OVER SOLAR CULTURE?
More than two decades ago, artist Steven Eye first opened the doors to an abandoned downtown produce warehouse on Toole Avenue that he had rented for the princely sum of $300 a month from the Arizona Department of Transportation.
That warehouse, which had been acquired by the state and was slated for destruction to make way for a Barraza-Aviation Parkway extension that was never built, has blossomed into Solar Culture, which is part art gallery, part performance space and part artistic hub of the downtown Warehouse District.
But there are dark clouds gathering over Solar Culture's building, which is set to go up for auction next week as the cash-strapped state seeks to unload surplus properties in an effort to find revenue.
The auction process was put into motion by developer Steve Fenton, who put down $9,500 for the chance to bid on Solar Culture. That's 10 percent of the appraised value of $95,000.
Unfortunately, when the Tucson City Council had to decide which warehouse spaces to transfer from the state into city hands, Solar Culture did not make the list, which did include the Steinfeld Warehouse, the Toole Shed and the warehouse that's now home to Skrappy's.
Eye has poured his heart and soul into the building. He estimates that he's also spent something in the neighborhood of $50,000, plus countless hours of sweat equity, into making it the funky space it is today.
Over the last two decades, Solar Culture has hosted hundreds of bands from around the world and has showed thousands of works created by local artists.
But Eye has never made much money from his artistic endeavors and certainly does not have the deep pockets necessary to compete in an auction against Fenton.
The Warehouse Arts Management Organization—WAMO—is trying to help out Eye. Earlier this week, the board was able to convince the city's Industrial Development Authority to put up an undisclosed sum of money so that WAMO could also bid on the property next Tuesday, Nov. 10. That money would be paid back over time in form of monthly payments from Eye.
Marvin Shaver, president of the WAMO board, says that Solar Culture must remain an arts space.
"It's a vital and ongoing community-based arts venue," Shaver says. "We're after the creation of an arts district, and we already have a centerpiece in Steve Eye and Solar Culture."
Fenton did not return a phone call from the Tucson Weekly, but he has reportedly told Eye that he would like him to keep running his gallery in the Solar Culture space—as long as he can make the rent.
That's all well and good, but it's easy to suspect that Fenton's long-term plan for the space does not include a funky art gallery and performance space, especially since the building will probably need considerable improvements once it moves into private hands.
We would hope that Fenton would recognize, when he's calculating how much he wants to bid on the property, exactly how much bad press he'd absorb should he decide to kick Eye out of the Solar Culture space.
One merely has to look at the community hostility that downtown developers Scott Stiteler and Don Martin are receiving over the Rialto Theatre fiasco earlier this year, and the recently unveiled plans to kick out some merchants on Congress Street to make way for a new restaurant. That latest twist has generated a growing Facebook page dedicated to abusing Stiteler.
There are surely safer and easier investments in property these days, particularly when you consider the glacial pace of Rio Nuevo revitalization and the curse that many would-be downtown developers appear to labor under.
However the auction goes next week, Solar Culture should remain a community-arts resource, and Steven Eye should keep running the show.
FREEDOM'S JUST ANOTHER WORD ...
Sen. John McCain recently introduced the "Internet Freedom Act," which has little do with freedom, except when it comes to the freedom of Internet providers like Cox and Quest to decide what sort of sites you can visit.
That's at the heart of "net neutrality"—the concept that providers should be obligated to allow customers equal access to all Web sites, rather than, say, giving fast load-ups of Fox News and the Drudge Report while jamming connections to Talking Points Memo and the Huffington Post.
The Federal Communications Commission recently voted to set up rules regarding net neutrality, which brought a swift response from McCain, who has enjoyed oodles of contributions from the telecom companies over the years.
McCain's legislation would prohibit the FCC from establishing rules regarding net neutrality, which would be a very bad thing for the Internet as we know and love it today.
McCain says his legislation would "keep the Internet free from government control and regulation." But that, in turn, would leave the telecom corporations free to regulate and control it as they see fit—and that seems like leaving the foxes in control of the virtual henhouse.
ARIZONA: STILL BROKE
The state's finances remain in a freefall, according to the latest report from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.
A JBLC bulletin tells us that in September, sales-tax collections were down nearly 16 percent compared to September 2008, and income-tax collections were down nearly 25 percent from September 2008. It's the 14th straight month of double-digit declines compared to the previous year.
Even worse: During the first three months of the fiscal year, the state has spent $2.8 billion, and has taken in $1.8 billion. Some of that has been papered over with federal stimulus dollars, but the projected shortfall in the current budget year is up to $2 billion. And next year's shortfall is anticipated to be even higher.
Once you make a few adjustments, the state's collections are now $233 million below the conservative projections upon which the budget was based.
Those are enough numbers to make your head spin, but here's the bottom line: We're so screwed.
We hear that lawmakers may be close to a deal for a special session to deal with at least some of this red ink, perhaps sometime around the middle of this month. But the scope of that get-together remains subject to negotiation.
We also hear that Tim Bee, the former state Senate president who is now running Gov. Jan Brewer's Southern Arizona office, may be taking more of a role in budget talks. That could be good news, given that Bee is a master of understanding the budget, even if he never had to deal with a crisis of this magnitude.
Speaking of Brewer: We hear she's taking more steps that make it appear as though she'll be running for governor next year. So far, we've seen Tucson attorney John Munger and Paradise Valley Mayor Vernon Parker setting up campaigns to challenge her; we also keep hearing Arizona Treasurer Dean Martin mentioned as a potential GOP challenger.
Find early and late-breaking Skinny at The Range, our daily dispatch.