Danville cuts its Heart out

May 19, 2004|LIZ MAPLES

There won't be a farmer's market or concerts in Weisiger Park next year. No more Christmas parade or trick-or-treating downtown.

At least not organized by the Heart of Danville.

City Commissioners slashed funding for the organization by 89 percent Tuesday. Last year, the Heart got $45,000 from the city. This year, it requested $50,000. It got the difference - $5,000.

The Heart puts on downtown events, promotes downtown revitalization, writes grants, lobbied for federal and state dollars to build a parking garage and helped secure a tenant for the Hub-Gilcher building.

"You already ripped the Heart out," said Commissioner Jamey Gay.

Almost simultaneously Commissioner Terry Crowley said, "You cut the Heart out."

They were reacting to Commissioner Chester Kavanaugh's offer to cut seniors from $55,000 to $53,000, if Gay and Crowley would agree to cut the Heart's funding.


Bowling, Owens and Kavanaugh are behind the cut

Mayor John W.D. Bowling suggested the cut and he, Owens and Kavanaugh refused to budge more than a few thousand dollars off their original offer of $5,000.

The organization's executive director, Julie Wagner, expects that the organization will have to close its doors.

"I am stunned," she said in a telephone interview.

Wagner worked the polls Tuesday and wasn't able to be at the city's meeting.

"They have essentially sent the message that they don't want a Main Street program," she said. "We can't operate on $5,000. They know that."

She had her staff bring her a budget out to the polls after word reached her about the cuts. There she found not much in savings.

The Heart of Danville is part of the national Main Street program, and was the only one of Kentucky's 100 plus programs to be recognized nationally. A framed sign proclaiming Danville a Main Street city hangs in the commissioners meeting chamber.

The Main Street program works to create a public and private partnership to revitalize downtown. The city won't be eligible for state Renaissance grants without a Main Street program.

Bowling said the state doesn't have any more Renaissance money, and that the city staff could write grants now being written by the Heart.

Wagner said she has a meeting with the state today to see how the Renaissance program will be restructured. Those funds made it possible for business owners along Main Street to improve their building's facades.

Crowley says proposal is "ludicrous"

Crowley said he thought it was "ludicrous" to think that city staff could spend the hours writing grants that had been put in by the Heart staff.

Wagner said that once construction starts on the parking garage and the renovation of the Hub begins there will be enough payroll tax, from those jobs, to pay for the Heart. Once finished, an ambulatory surgery center at the site will create 102 jobs.

"There will be money coming in to fund us," Wagner said. "But it is a lot deeper than dollars and cents."

David Morgan, executive director of the Kentucky Heritage Council, agreed.

"Downtown revitalization is about much more than getting money," he said. "The Heart created enthusiasm downtown ... if you lose that then you will lose the reasons people come downtown."

Morgan said that he used to use Danville's Main Street Program as an example to show other cities, but that he wouldn't be able to do that anymore.

"There are great things going on in downtown Danville, and the credit goes to the Heart," he said.

At one point during the city's discussions, Crowley went down as low as $25,000, and Bowling went as high as $10,000, but said he wanted city staff to absorb duties of the Heart. Kavanaugh offered to go to $7,500, and Gay refused to go lower than $35,000.

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