One of the glorious aspects of being a beat reporter, especially in an urban context, is peering behind the curtain of public spin that bureaucrats and boosters manipulate with such skill.
A prime example is the due diligence and design phase related to the construction of the Tanger Performing Arts Center in Downtown Greensboro. Fraught with controversy since its inception-with boosters touting the project’s greatness and scorning anyone who dare question the costs-the drive to build a state of the art PAC in Greensboro has missed deadline after deadline as costs have escalated.
Margaret Moffett of the Greensboro News and Record dug into some of the issues revealed in a recent public records request, and it filled in a lot of the gaps left out of the News and Record’s puff pieces on the sound system that boosters have used to bridge the gap of visible progress at the site on North Elm Street.
Moffett’s recent report revealed that an early 2019 opening date isn’t really a possibility, not two week’s after the News and Record’s arts reporter published a gushing puff piece about how great the sound system will be when the project opens in early 2019.
Boosters on Facebook and other social media outlets love to crush any dissent or criticism of the idea of a $78 million performing arts center in Downtown Greensboro, but that’s mere intellectual dishonesty, or worse, willful blindness to the need for public oversight of such a large public expense.
The city’s point man on the project, Coliseum Director Matt Brown, who also happens to be the highest paid employee of the City of Greensboro, trotted out the idea last August of incrementally leaking news of the sound system in order to mollify donors and other critics worried about the glacial pace of visible progress. Kathy Manning, the lead fundraiser on the private side of the project, had raised serious concerns about the lack of progress in early August, right after the opening of LeBauer Park adjacent to the future home of the Tanger Performing Arts Center.
Moffett highlighted the most damning portions of Manning’s comments in her recent article, but more interesting comments are included in the full email exchange.
Readers are encouraged to read the entire conversation, including Manning’s harsh criticism of the decision to use the public/private partnership model and in giving the construction manager, Skanska, so much power that it could “monopolize the bidding.”
Of significant interest is Walker Sanders’ summary of the TPAC process in addition to Manning’s further scolding of Sanders’ attempt to “whitewash things.”
“I don’t want to have to wash my hands of this project but if we keep pretending that things aren’t running late that is just dishonest and I won’t put my reputation on the line by trying to whitewash things,” Manning wrote. “At the very least let’s be honest about where we stand. We are one year behind because we have been trying to build a $75 million building for $50 million – the donors were unwilling to compromise on quality and the city was unwilling to compromise on size. We should have figured out a way to make this process competitive rather than allowing Skanska to monopolize the bidding. We should have been building this privately, just as UNGC has done so successfully with its building projects.”