Maple Leaf Project – For The Record

The Maple Leaf Music Venue and Performing Arts Center is to be a Brown County, IN government-owned and managed venue.  It is a 12.5 million dollar facility that is funded by revenue from the Brown County Innkeepers Tax.

The intent of the documentation (this post) is to keep track of the evolution and impact of the project over time and compare the expected results with the actual.

The complete business plan for this government-owned and managed venue appears to be a work in process. Current efforts (July 2018) identified a need for a strategic plan.

PHASE II —  Management and Construction – Feb 27, 2018to Present

In addition to the coverage of Maple Leaf provided in the Brown County Democrat, current blog posts on the topic can be found at Independent Voters of Brown County, IN and on Independent Voters Facebook page.

  • July 25, 2018. GUEST OPINION: Tim J. Clark. Maple LeafWill more money be a recurring theme?  This project was sold as “too good to fail.” Let’s hope that’s true. The public and voters will determine if the decisions and process used to fast-track this project are in the best interests of all county citizens. 

“… having an independent review of the county-owned concert hall project before bids to build it are opened makes sense. There is insufficient transparency, and too much dependence on one person, and lack of oversight. I don’t want my name to be included as being the oversight when I am not. … I was supportive, and am supportive if it’s done right.” – Bill Austin, who resigned as a member of the Maple Leaf Building Corp and is a former County Commissioner.

  • April 17, 2018Maple Leaf bid opening pushed back CVC Secretary Derek Clifford expressed concerns about cutting corners to keep the project within budget and whether it would still be realistic to build it if bids came in too high. …. “Everyone has put so much time into this. Is there a problem with tunnel vision?”

Ault said, worst-case scenario, if the venue isn’t built, the remaining loan money can be returned to the bank. … “Worst-case scenario is we have a $2 million piece of property and we’re going to use innkeepers tax to pay for it,” he said.

Bank Documents

Indiana Gateway Bond-Lease Reports:

Organization: As of April 10, 2018.

  • Maple Leaf Building Corporation. Robyn Bowman, Mike Laros, Susan Gaudin (New) – Bill Austin resigned
  • Brown County Maple Leaf Management Group INC.
    • Kevin Ault, Tourism Commission – Co-President
    • Diana Biddle, County Commissioner
    • Darren Byrd, County Council
    • Bruce Gould, CVB Board of Directors
    • Barry Herring, Tourism Commission – Co-President
    • Dena Patrick, Treasurer
    • Jim Schultz, At Large
    • Reference: Maple Leaf Organization as of April 10, 2018

PHASE I — Approval Process – April 2017 – Jan  2018.

Decision Authority:  The commissioners and all council members voted to approve funding for the project.  They declined to hold any public meetings to get input from the citizens regarding the desirability and concerns related to the project.

  • Commissioners: Dave Anderson, Diana Biddle, Jerry Pittman.
  • County Council: David Critser, John Price, Glenda Stogsdill, Debbie Guffey, Darren Byrd, Keith Baker, Art Knight.
  • Maple Leaf Project Committee:
    • CVC: Barry Herring (Brown County Inn), Kevin Ault (The Seasons Lodge, Hotel Nashville),
    • CVB: Bruce Gould (Cornerstone Inn,) Jane Ellis (CVB Director).
    • Other: Doug Hardin, Venue Designer, Jim Schultz, Community member

2017 Board of Directors CVB

CVB Articles of Incorporation

CVC Contract with CVB Jan 2016-Dec 2018

CVB Contract 1994000518

Innkeepers Tax Ordinance

IC 6-9-14 Chapter 14. Brown County Innkeeper’s Tax 

Tax Forms (IRS Form 990) and more Info on  Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) 

Key Dates:  Commissioners and council refuse to answer questions or delay their vote pending public hearings to obtain citizen input regarding the project.

  • August 22, 2017. Request for Zoning Change, Area Plan Commission, Recommend approval by the Commissioners.
  • September 6, 2017.  9:00 am Commissioner Meeting. Zoning approved. It was stated that the approval was for zoning and not the project and that public meetings would be held regarding the desirability of the project.
  • November 15, 2017. Commissioners approve the project.
  • November 20, 2017. Council approves project.
  • Dec 20, 2017. Commissioners pass a final resolution approving the project.

SUMMARY – Extracted from the following article: Dec 27, 2017. GUEST OPINION: By Tim J. Clark. The role of process in the future of Brown County. The Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center (MLPAC) project and the process used to fast-track approval may represent a turning point for the future of the county.  

  • In April 2017, owners of hotels and inns, who are also appointed to the Convention and Visitors Commission (CVC) and Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) decide to use the revenue collected from the innkeeper’s tax to invest in an asset that will promote tourism. The Innkeeper’s Tax is a pass-through tax paid by the party renting the overnight accommodations.
  • CVC members are appointed by the county commissioners and council. The CVB is a non-profit organization established to manage tourism related promotion on behalf of the CVC.
  • CVC/CVB members decided on a music venue and performing arts center and also determined the size, location, scope, cost (12.5 million), and overall governance plan for the facility. Given that this investment is expected to result in overnight stays, their businesses will directly benefit from the investment, and the asset values of their establishments will likely increase.
  • Initially, county citizens were told that revenue from the innkeepers tax would be used to pay the principal and interest on the mortgage for the venue. Any profits were to be used for community and county infrastructure priorities.  The final terms of the deal are that profits would be used to make the mortgage payment and the revenue from the innkeeper’s tax would only be used if profits were not sufficient to make the payment.
  • A common perception in the county that was reinforced by the president of the county council, may be that the revenue from the innkeeper’s tax is “their (CVC) money.” This inaccurate perception may have contributed to a lack of transparency over the years regarding the management and expenditure of these funds.  This revenue, per statute, is a county asset. Commissioners and Council (elected by citizens) appoint CVC members who are subordinate to the citizens and their elected officials.
  • The approval of a 12.5 million dollar loan using the revenue from the innkeeper’s tax as collateral was approved by the commissioners on Nov 15 and the county council on Nov 20. The commissioners approved another resolution approving the project on Dec 20. In case of default, the venue would become the property of the bank, and per the county council president and the county financial consultant, county taxpayers would not be obligated to assume the liability.
  • No public meetings expressly focused on this important project were scheduled by the commissioners or council before their meetings to approve the project. The League of Women Voters of Brown County offered to facilitate a public meeting to address citizen questions, concerns, and issues regarding the project. Members of the CVC, the CVB and the informal team working on the Maple Leaf project declined to participate, as did several key elected officials.
  • The editor of the only newspaper in the county – The Brown County Democrat, did recuse herself from being the primary reporter because of a conflict of interest — her husband serves on the CVC. The Democrat welcomed opposing opinions in Guest Columns and Letters to the Editor.

Jan 23, 2018.  Working toward ‘a more perfect union’ By Tim Clark, a guest columnist. ”As individuals, we may not have too much direct influence over what happens politically at the national level of government. At the county level, our efforts can certainly be directed to local issues. We can choose to determine the quality of government that we want and need.

In my first guest column on this topic, “The role of process in county’s future,” I identified that the process used to fast-track the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center (MLPAC) might represent a turning point for the future of the county.

In the follow-up column, “Coming together is a beginning,” I identified possible outcomes from the fast-track process regarding scenarios that included “status quo plus,” “transformative” and “collaborative planning.”

The feedback I received on the columns suggested additional scenarios that included identifying the best case and a worse case. Best case is that MLPAC exceeds all expectations. A worse case is that the venue does not meet expectations, requiring a decision as to the disposition of an underperforming venue.

Best case is that MLPAC exceeds all expectations. A worse case is that the venue does not meet expectations, requiring a decision as to the disposition of an underperforming venue.

Jan 11, 2018.   Land, loan set for Maple Leaf project – Brown County Democrat.  The Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center officially has a home and a $12.5 million bank loan to build it. The Maple Leaf Building Corporation signed an agreement with Chuck Snyder on Dec. 20 to buy his land. The sale closed Dec. 28. A tentative agreement had been in place since July to buy 13.472 acres …

Jan 11, 2018GUEST OPINION: ‘Coming together is a beginning’ By Tim J. Clark, guest columnist. In the first part of my series, “The role of process in county’s future,” I suggested that the process applied to fast-track approval of the $12.5 million investment in the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center (MLPAC) might represent a turning point for the future of the ... Three scenarios – Status Quo Plus, Transformative (Party Central), Collaborative Planning.

Jan 9, 2018Letter: Maple Leaf Committee needs to answer questions To the editor: It is obvious to me that the Maple Leaf Committee is not going to answer questions about the performing arts center and to have “no more forums.” Someone needs to immediately file a lawsuit against the committee and compel them to answer all questions in writing! Michael B. Smith …

Dec 26, 2017. Letter: In response to Maple Leaf ‘no more … – Brown County Democrat To the editor: When we saw the headline in this past week’s paper, we were shocked. After much thought, we have concluded that this letter is necessary. As far as we know, no true forum which seemed designed to solicit genuine input from our county’s residents on the viability of the proposed Maple Leaf …

Dec 26, 2017Letter: More questions about the Maple Leaf center – Brown County …To the editor: Someone once told me “If you’re not prepared to deal with the answer, don’t ask the question.” It seems to me that many of the questions raised since the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center idea was introduced have not been fully considered or answered.

Dec 19, 2017Maple Leaf Building Corporation meeting Wednesday. Members have been appointed to the Maple Leaf Building Corporation, and they’re having their first meeting Wednesday afternoon. Local attorney Andy Szakaly will serve as the registered agent for the Maple Leaf Building Corporation.

Dec 12, 2007. Brown County Democrat.  Maple Leaf committee: No more forums Sufficient input time has been given at past public meetings, group says. The offer by the League of Women Voters to facilitate a public meeting was refused.  

Nov 28, 2017. Council approves pledging innkeepers tax to fund Maple Leaf venue The Brown County Council voted unanimously last week to pledge innkeepers tax revenue to pay the mortgage of the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center. That was the third of three board votes needed to move the project along to the next step.

Nov 22, 2017, Print Edition Brown County Democrat:

“Without better planning, we will continue to take a reactive “whack-a-mole” approach as issues bubble to the surface.”

Nov 20, 2017, 6:30 p.m.   County Council Meeting. County council unanimously approved the project. The audio recording of the meeting (See: Public Meeting Audio, County Council Minutes Audio Link 11/20/2017). Copy of the questions provided to the commissioners on Nov 15 also provided to the council.

County Council Statement 20 Nov 2017.   Copy of the questions provided to the commissioners meeting on Nov 15 also provided to the council.

Nov 17, 2017Steps taken to fund Maple Leaf venue. The Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center has received two votes of approval from government groups, and it will go before the Brown County Council for an additional vote on financing Monday night. 

Nov 15, 2017, 9 a.m.  Commissioner Meeting.  Commissioners voted to approve a resolution requesting council approval for financing.  Copy of questions provided to the commissioners.

Nov 6, 2017, Commissioner and Council Meeting.  Maple Leaf update provided to commissioners and council in a “working session”-  not advertised to the public.  Copy of the timetable provided at the meeting: Oct 24, 2017, Project Timetable).

Nov 1, 2017 9 a.m. Commissioners Meeting.  Maple Leaf update provided to commissioners – not advertised to the public.

Sep 20, 2017.  Guest Column: A study of tourism and economic sustainability.  By Tim Clark, “However, tourism, by itself, has not and cannot provide a sustainable economic future for Brown County. Further, too much tourism can have …”

Note: The proponents of the Maple Leaf project claimed that Maple Leaf “….  could be what it takes to turn things around economically for Brown County.”  This article was written to offer another perspective.  The county is funded primarily by income and property tax.  

Sept 6, 2017. Memorandum to the County Commissioners preceding their vote to approve the zoning change for the Maple Leaf Music Venue.  Encl 0 Memo for Commissioners 2017_09_06

July/August 2017.   ENCL 6 RDC Working Draft Project Analysis and Review 201709v10a – Proposed Maple Leaf Project

August 29, 2017.  Guest Opinion: Maple Leaf: What are the other options?  By Tim Clark guest columnistThe Maple Leaf in a different location (Gnaw Bone? Bean Blossom? Ski World?) could be an “anchor” facility that could support further …”

Facebook Page: Nashville isn’t broke so don’t break it! Comments on the article

Aug 29, 2017. New developments prompt county planning discussion “Clark asked fellow members of the Brown County Redevelopment Commission on Aug. … in a permanent increase in year-round tourism in Brown County,” Clark wrote in a letter to the board.”

August 22, 2017.  Letter: ‘Zoning for Maple Leaf: Not in the plan’ – Brown County Democrat ,Tim J. Clark  “Although the proposed Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center has not been formally approved by the commissioners …”  

August 21, 2017. Letter to the Area Plan Commission preceding their vote for the zoning change for the Maple Leaf music venue. Encl 2a Letter to APC on Maple Leaf Zoning

Aug 17, 2017.  Letters: Find a better site for Maple Leaf concert hall – Brown County … The proposed Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center would put a 2,000-seat concert hall next to one of the prime retirement communities in the state of Indiana. While the performing arts center is a good idea and has been talked about for many years, the chosen site is not only poor planning, it is a bad idea.

Aug 8, 2017. Letter: Maple Leaf proposal: Let’s not fail to plan By Tim J. Clark. For those where planning may be an abhorrent concept, Benjamin Franklin is credited with the axiom that: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

At the July 13, 2017, RDC meeting, a County Commissioner stated that the initial process that was outlined by the county attorneys was changed to the extent that project reviews and approval no longer required the involvement of the RDC. An updated outline and timeline has yet to be shared with the public.

June 20, 2017.  Building a destination: Maple Leaf Performing Arts plans “A group of people were waiting for the Brown County Playhouse doors to open for a public rollout meeting and presentation about the Maple …”

Maple Leaf Playhouse Presentation June 2017

April 9, 2017.  Brown County Redevelopment Commission (RDC) members attended a presentation that outlined the concept for the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center (MLPAC). In a follow-up contact following the presentation, the RDC reinforced their support for the concept and the importance of aligning the project in the context of a county plan and strategy. The RDC had no further involvement in the project.

 

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Planning for project success is a choice

The following is a copy of a Guest Column that was expected to be published Nov 15, 2017, in the Brown County Democrat prior to any vote by the Commissioners (Nov 15) and Council Meeting (Nov 20) approving the Maple Leaf Music Venue project. Due to space constraints, the article was published in the Nov 23, 2017, edition which may have been better timing.
The purpose of the column was to reinforce the need for a collaborative approach when considering development projects that can have long-term impacts on the community.

The recent community conversation on the status of the Salt Creek Trail reinforces that using ad-hoc teams to identify and manage projects independent of a county strategy and comprehensive planning can be problematic.

Salt Creek Trail has not been the only County project that has risks that can be eliminated or mitigated through improvements in the planning process.  Without better planning, we will continue to take a reactive “whack a mole” approach as issues bubble to the surface. Current projects include the following:

  • Salt Creek Trail Project, now 15 years in duration, has been delayed due to objections from affected property owners and elected officials opposed to the use of eminent domain by the State of Indiana.
  • Proposed Maple Leaf Music Venue.  This project is expected to be approved by the end of November. The following entities have accepted responsibility and accountability for all project results:  Council, Commissioners, Convention Visitors Commission.  Commissioners accepted the League of Women Voters request to hold a public meeting to address any questions or concerns that citizens may have with the project.
  • County Courthouse Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  This is a critical project to accommodate citizens with challenges, but approved and funded solutions have yet to be identified. Improving security is another important requirement.

Project results – be they good or bad, are determined by processes (habits, approaches) that are used in leading and managing the respective project. An improved process for identifying and managing projects can prevent problems and provide project leaders with the needed support from the community.  Successful projects that meet the expectations of the citizens make a positive contribution to our culture and quality of life.

As a certified quality auditor – now semi-retired, I have conducted and supported performance and process reviews in a wide variety of areas and industries. The scope of projects ranged from improving math skills and management issues in elementary and high schools to assessing compliance of government agencies with financial management controls required by federal and state statutes to improving national defense-related strategies.

Process reviews consist of assessing an organization’s processes (habits, approaches) and their respective capabilities in meeting the needs and expectations of the customer and other stakeholders.  Findings often supported the adage that “If you always do what you always did, on average, you will usually get what you always got” — 99.73% of the time.

In considering needed changes, the overwhelming preference – despite the risks and quality of the outcome, is often to maintain the status quo.  To break the gravitational pull of the old habits, there must be a sense of urgency that change is required to produce the desired result.

Regarding urgency, many rural counties throughout the country including Brown County, face projected declines in the population that contribute to a declining tax base. This decline may require frequent and recurring tax increases and cuts in services unless the situation can be improved.  Indiana counties are funded primarily by property and income tax. New residential and business developments that are supported by the citizenry and will result in increases in the tax base can help mitigate the projected economic decline.

Attracting investors for residential and business developments requires the formulation and updating of a comprehensive (master) plan that reinforces the community vision and values, and includes the immediate and long-range reports and plans necessary to implement the desires of the community. Elements of master planning could include strategies and plans in the following areas:  Broadband (Internet), Trail Systems, Wastewater Treatment, Residential Housing, Land Use, Thoroughfares, Tourism, and Capital Improvements.

With a master plan, community leaders can market the plan to private investors and companies can then use the plan to assess their risks and return on investment to seriously evaluate expansion and growth in Brown County.

To help develop support for the right projects, developments requiring taxpayer funding or other support must be guided by the policies and goals specified in the county comprehensive plan. The current 14-page comprehensive plan was approved in 2012 and provides general guidance concerning the future of Brown County.  Larger counties in Indiana can have more detailed plans that exceed 200 pages. Additional information on this approach is provided by The Indiana Citizens Planners Guide.  Another useful guide for developing effective project management plans and schedules is available from the Project Management Institute.

An immediate and incremental change to supplement the county comprehensive plan with the plans from current projects represents a proven strategy. This change to the status quo will help support elected leaders to maintain required project oversight, engages the citizenry, and ensures the community that actions align with the vision for the county. This change can take us a step forward in building a master plan that will convince potential new residents and investors that Brown County remains a desirable place to live, work, play and invest!

Tim Clark
Brown County