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Beverly Arts Center Gets Bailout

By Howard Ludwig | September 27, 2013 7:24am
 Mayor Rahm Emanuel heralded a donation of $250,000 to the financially strapped Beverly Arts Center.
Beverly Arts Center
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MORGAN PARK — The ballet dancer bailed out the Beverly Arts Center on Thursday.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, an accomplished ballet dancer, gave $250,000 to the financially strapped arts center at 2407 W. 111th St.

The funds were originally raised for the 2012 NATO summit, which came in $10 million under budget. The mayor has since handed out small portions of the surplus to after-school programs and other pet projects.

"In politics, you also need fast footwork," Emanuel said, crediting his dance training for instilling focus and discipline.

The city contribution along with a state grant of $100,000 secured by State Rep. Fran Hurley (D-35th) is a small portion of the $4.7 million that the Beverly Arts Center owes Fifth Third Bank.

The Cincinnati-based bank has agreed to restructure the rest of the outstanding mortgage into two separate loans. The Beverly Arts Center will retain a $1.75 million mortgage on the 40,000-square-foot arts center, said Barbara O'Malley, president of the center's board.

A secondary loan of $2.5 million will be held by the bank. If the center manages to raise $500,000 to chip away at the debt in one year, Fifth Third will forgive the remaining $2 million, O'Malley said.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity where donations to the Beverly Arts Center will be matched four to one," she said.

Fundraising got off to a strong start on Thursday, as Bill and Joan Baffes committed $125,000 to the arts center. The Baffes family owns the popular neighborhood grocery store County Fair Foods at 10800 S. Western Ave.

"When a community supports a store the way Beverly and Morgan Park does, we are really fortunate that we are able to give back," said Tom Baffes, who works with his father in the store.

The debt restructuring comes a little more than a year after Fifth Third threatened to foreclose on the insolvent arts center. The long-time executive director, Mike Nix, was ousted as part of the fallout.

A search for a new executive director is now underway along with plans for the Beverly Arts Center Challenge. This effort hopes to raise the remainder of the $500,000 through various community events and fundraisers, O'Malley said.

The arts center serves 27,000 people annually by offering classes in filmmaking, pottery, digital photography and even Spanish. The prominent building also has a 400-seat theater that regularly hosts concerts, comedians and arthouse films.

Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th) said discussions with Fifth Third about the future of the arts center were often heated. Problems began when the building's construction first estimated at $5 million ballooned to $12 million.

"We feared for a catastrophe here, make no mistake about it," O'Shea said.

He credited Emanuel for stepping up with a large city donation and continuing to support cultural improvements throughout the city.

"The mayor has been a tireless advocate of the Beverly Arts Center," he said.

Frederick Harris sang "Make Them Hear You" from the musical "Ragtime" before the mayor's announcement. He's an instructor at the Beverly Arts Center, most recently leading a group of teens in the performance of "The Producers."

"This is really a top-notch place for the level of artists we have here," Harris said.