Denver’s Bond Boogie – Get Ready Folks, Promises Made Not Likely to be Kept

April 14, 2009. Update.

Yes, I understand the issue which this post deals with is not something that excites, is in no way akin to, oh, what’s going on over at American Idol, or what’s up with the trade of Jay Cutler to the Bears (or was it some other team? I don’t know. I don’t care.), or the Rockies home-opener win (Yikes!). But, this post does deal with, perhaps, more fundamental, more inherently substantive subject matter than what captures the interest of most. That said, let me bring those who do have an interests up-to-date.

As the below post reported, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science approached the Denver City Council with an amendment to their Funding and Assignment Agreement for new construction–a necessary consequential component to the $30 million in bond funds Denver voters approved way back in November, 2007.

As the below post explains, the bond measure, 1H, was touted by its supporters as being the best deal since sliced bread, that, if approved, the “supporters” of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science would ante-up $23 million in matching funds (private contributions) to assure the integrity of this public/private endeavor. The “new construction” for the Boettcher concert hall was also part of the 1H bond issue and, just like the Museum’s promise, private donors would match city funds to, again, assure the integrity of the public/private endeavor. The total for the promised matching funds was touted to be $145 million, to the city’s $70 million bond commitment.

Well, last month, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science approached City Council with an amendment to their Funding and Assignment agreement with the city, that essentially gutted the promise that the matching privately raised funds ($23 million) would be available and divvied out upon the first draw of bond monies dedicated to the project. In essence, what the DMNS was asking for was that city bond funds be used, expended, exhausted without any commitment that the promised $23 million would be available as promised.

Suffice it to say, Hizzoner, John Hickenlooper, has been pushing for quick starts to bond projects; something that he believes is necessary to boost the economy in these hard times. And, implicit in the DMNS’s proposed amendment to their Funding and Assignment agreement, was just that: a quick start to the project.

Okay. Hope you’re still with me.

Now comes last night’s City Council meeting where the final restructuring of the Funding and Assignment agreement for the DMNS was passed on a 12-1 vote, (Jeanne Faatz being the lone vote; a vote of conscience that surely came from her sense that promises should be kept, especially if they were made to the taxpayers of Denver. Denver Direct provides video of Ms. Faatz’s comments).

The new Funding and Assignment agreement, passed on first reading last night. And, guess what? That “quick start” to the project that was the selling point for the amendment in the first place, is now kaput. Yes, seems George Sparks, CEO and President of the DMNS, scurried about city hall recently, and advised our city mothers and fathers that a “quick start” to the project would not be forthcoming, that the ever-dropping sales tax numbers–which, of  course, in part, funds the SCFD (Scientific and Cultural Facilities District) at 1/10 of 1% sales and use tax–precluded a “quck start” because, well, there were up-front cost to get the project going and, well, the money just isn’t there and, well, won’t you please, please, please allow us to renege on our commitment to the taxpayers of Denver and maybe, possibly, sometime in the future we’ll make things right.

A lick and a promise. I looked up the etymology of that phrase: “A superficial promise made without care or enthusiasm.”

Enough said.


NOTE: Necessary updates are in green.

You will recall–how could you forget–that a $550 million bond package was passed by the voters in November, 2007.  You will also hopefully recall, that several big ticket items in that package dumped a goodly sum into what is referred to as “The  Culturals.” And, part of that money to the culturals was for NEW CONSTRUCTION: Boettcher Concert Hall ($40 million), and Denver Museum of Nature and Science ($30 million). And, yes, you will recall that ballot issue 1G provided for much needed infrastructure repairs to the culturals. But, it was 1H, the NEW CONSTRUCTION for the culturals that, in Bob Ewegen’s column in the Denver Post of October 7, 2007, dangled the proverbial carrot for Denver’s voters. Ewegen reported:

As an extra bonus, 1H is heavily leveraged with private funds. If Denver taxpayers approve the $70 million seed money, backers of the museum and symphony have pledged to raise an additional $145 million, matching Denver’s dollars more than two to one. No other item on the ballot includes such private matching funds.

Okay. Promises were made with regard to the public/private NEW CONSTRUCTION endeavors for  Boettcher and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Those promises of raising “…an additional $145million, matching Denver’s dollars more than two to one…” by “…backers of the museum and symphony…” were, ahem, not included in the bond language presented to the voters. However, when such a public/private endeavor is undertaken by the city, something called a Funding and Assignment Agreement is necessarily entered into by the city and the publicly/privately funded enterprises, in this case,  Boettcher and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Those Funding and Assignment Agreements presumably–I have not seen them–detailed the mechanism to assure your and my tax dollars (bond funds) were protected; that the largesse of the “backers” of both entities would own up to their promise and not leave Denver taxpayers holding the bag for NEW CONSTRUCTION undone by either enterprises’ inability to raise  private matching funds. My presumption that such language is in the current Funding and Assignment Agreements is somewhat affirmed by what is going to happen today happened yesterday, March 23, in a Denver City Council Committee meeting with an ordinance proposal that will–yeah, you guessed it–modifying the Agreement to renege on the promised “matching” private funding mechanism encompassed in the Agreement. To wit: (Here’s the link to a video of that meeting. The subject matter of this ordinance request is next to the last item on the agenda. However, you should start at about 21 minutes into the video, as there is a very interesting discussion, initiated by Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz, that focuses on the dearth of information councilmembers consistently receive regarding projects/contracts; a lack of detail that, one might say, keeps councilmembers just slightly in the dark about what really is occurring with those projects/contracts.)

ORDINANCE/RESOLUTION REQUEST

1. Title: (Include a one sentence description that clearly indicates the type of request – grant acceptance, contract execution, municipal code change, supplemental request, etc.)

An ordinance to amend the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS) Funding and Assignment Agreement.

2. Requesting Agency:

Better Denver Bond Program

3. Contact Person with actual knowledge of proposed ordinance who will present the item at Mayor Council

Name: Don Hunt / Stu Williams

Phone: 303-725-5949

Email: dunt@anteronet.com; stu_williams@matrixdesigngroup.com

4. Describe the proposed ordinance, including what the proposed ordinance is intended to accomplish, who’s involved, scope of work, duration, location, affected Council district, benefits, and costs. (This is intended to give a brief overview of the ordinance. For additional background and history, please attach an executive summary).

This request is to revise existing Funding and Assignment Agreement to allow DMNS to expend bond funds prior to, rather than concurrent with, expenditure of museum funds. Bond funds will go toward the construction of the Storage and Education Facility Project. The reason for this request is to recognize the challenging fundraising constraints caused by the current economic recession. The Amendment will permit the core and shell Facility to be built with bond funds, and allow DMNS to continue to meet their $23 million fundraising obligation over time to complete the Facility.

5. Is there any controversy surrounding this ordinance, groups or individuals who may have concerns about it? Please explain.

No

(Completed by Mayor’s Office): Ordinance Request Number: Date:

Some information you probably need to know. The city hired CH2M Hill–a respected worldwide conglomerate that does pretty much anything, anybody, anywhere needs to have done–to manage the 2007 bond projects, including, I believe, approving the dispersal of monies relating thereto. Their presence within City Hall is called: Better Denver Bond Program. The head honcho for Better Denver Bond Program is a fellow named, Don Hunt.

You will note that it is Don Hunt and Stu Williams are the “contact persons” for the proposed ordinance that will codify broken promises by amending the present Funding and Assignment Agreement between the City and County of Denver and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The City Council Bond Implementation Committee meeting will occur at 3:30 p.m. today. You can watch it live at (Drill down to “Upcoming Videos”):

Here’s the link.

Backing up to April 28, 2008, when Hizzoner’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Amy Mueller, and Asst. City Attorney, Jen Weflen set-forth what they perceived to be the essence of the Funding and Assignment Agreement that was entered into by the City and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science that assured–apparently in rather nebulous terms–NO CITY BOND MONEY WOULD BE SPENT ON NEW CONSTRUCTION UNLESS/UNTIL THE DENVER MUSEUM OF NATURE AND SCIENCE PROVIDED THEIR PROMISED SHARE OF “MATCHING” FUNDS AND THE GUARANTEE THAT THEY HAD, IN HAND, THE PROMISED $23 MILLION AND NO DRAW-DOWN OF BOND FUNDS WOULD BE MADE WITHOUT DIPPING INTO THE MUSEUM’S PROMISED “MATCHING”  SHARE OF FUNDS. I used the word “nebulous,” above. If the Agreement lacks any specificity as to how the Museum was going to assure the city their “matching” funds were available; what instrument would be provided by the Museum to give the city some comfort level that promises would be kept, then my only conclusion is that the Denver City Attorney’s Office was guilty of sloppy lawyering on this one.  The video is here and you should fast forward to about nine minutes: Here’s the link.

What bothers me most about what Ms. Mueller and Ms. Weflen have to say in the video, is my perception that they really don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, that they’re not really THAT SURE what exactly is in the Agreement. You will note Ms. Weflen turning to some unseen person each time she makes some “authoritative” statement about how the Museum is going to assure the $23 million in “matching” funds is secure and in-hand. Of course, we later see that Ms. Weflen in turning toward the Museum representative in the room, a Ms. Peggy Day.

Stepping back to October, 2007, I suppose it is instructive to note I was adamantly oppossed to 1H, the NEW CONSTRUCTION for the culturals. It is also instructive to note what David Harsanyi (Denver Post columnist) had to say, in short:

The museum [of Nature and Science] argues it needs more space. Well, join the club. Perhaps it’s time to scale back your expectations. You know, throw something out.

Many folks will tell you that failing to support institutions like the Denver Museum of Nature and Science means you’re an inferior member of “the community.” But no other major city has used tax increases to keep similar facilities afloat.

Okay. Cutting to the chase, here. The language in the ordinance request to be presented today at the March 23rd meeting of the (video linked above) City Council’s Bond Implementation Committee meeting notes, as above: “The amendment will permit the core and shell Facility to be built with bond funds, and allow DMNS to continue to meet their $23 million fund raising obligation over time to complete the facility.” Talk about nebulous. “Over time…” What the hell does that mean? Is there a suggestion here that, hey, let’s just use those bond funds to do what we can, then when the bond funds run out and the facilities remain unfinished, well, we’ll just let the facilities sit unfinished until either we raise the promised “matching” funds or–and here’s the kicker–we’ll just wait until the city bails us out, maybe in another seven to ten years when another bond cycle comes around. Believe me, this is not out of the realm of possibility.

Sure, times are tough and fund raising is lacking. But, wouldn’t it be to the city’s advantage to say wait a darn minute here? Wouldn’t it be to the city’s advantage to ask the Museum how much money they have raised toward the effort? Wouldn’t it be to the city’s advantage to forgo CH2M Hill’s (Better Denver Bond Program) request to just forget about promises made and, well, maybe “over time” the Museum will honor those promises? Wouldn’t it be to the city’s advantage to say, okay, you’ve only got $10 million in the coffers for the effort, so we’ll amend the Funding and Assignment Agreement to reflect that the requirement for “matching” funds be modified to allow the Museum to infuse a lesser amount than originally anticipated, but that ultimately, the full promised $23 million will be required before, BEFORE bond funds are exhausted?

There is, of course, the likelihood  that this proposed modification to the Agreement between the city and the Museum is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. What about Boettcher’s (the Colorado Symphony) efforts at fund raising to provide the promised “matching” funds? Will modification of  the Boettcher NEW CONSTRUCTION Funding and Assignment Agreement be next on the Bond Implementation Committee’s agenda? Methinks it’s likely.

And, what about all the other bond projects that were included in Hick’s $550 million package of November, 2007? That $550 million ain’t what it used to be, folks. The diminishment of the worth of the dollar surely bodes ill for completion of many of those projects. Better Denver Bond Program?

Maybe the Hick and his minions should consider revising the moniker to: Maybe a Better Denver Bond Program if the Shit Don’t Hit the Fan, Y’all!

The outcome of the March 23rd meeting of the Bond Implementation Committee meeting was, as you will see if you watch the above-linked video (occurs at about 1 hour on the video), a suggestion from Commitee Chairman Michael Hancock that the language of the Funding and Assignment Agreement be “tweaked” to reflect a more specific intent by the DMNS as to the use of unrestricted capital funds raised by the DMNS to be dedicated exclusively to the Bond Project 1H anticipated. There was general agreement that the same could be accomplished. I guess we’ll just wait and see.

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3 Responses to Denver’s Bond Boogie – Get Ready Folks, Promises Made Not Likely to be Kept

  1. Thanks for taking the time to detail this latest “bait and switch” on the Denver voters. I’ve clipped out the portion of the Channel 8 video of the meeting in which Councilwoman Faatz details her disappointment at http://www.denverdirect.tv.

  2. Thanks for that, George. Nicely written, excellent analysis.

  3. georgeindenver says:

    Gerald, Jeffrey, thanks for the comments.

    The subject matter is not something that will capture the interest of most Denver citizens, taxpayers who were sucked into the hype with regard to 1H–the 2007 bond ballot measure that passed by a hair. I suppose our collective memory is short…except for a few. Or, is it simply that most folks have become cynical about government; look at the saga of 1H, shake their heads with the affirmation that those who govern have lost touch with the essential purpose of their incumbency: to serve and protect the best interests of the people, the city. Jeanne Faatz deserves a hug for her persistence. Or, being PC here, a handshake and a deserved Well Done!

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