BEVERLY — Perhaps it was the Stevie Ray Vaughn tribute band last month that changed Dennis O'Malley's mind.
The financially-plagued arts center at 2407 W. 111th St. had been swimming in debt since opening in September 2002. Eleven years later, the center was drowning, staring down at a seemingly insurmountable $4.7 million debt to Fifth Third Bank.
The BAC Challenge was born out of this dire situation. First, Mayor Rahm Emanuel offered a $250,000 bailout payment, tapping funds initially raised for the 2012 NATO summit. State Rep. Fran Hurley (D-35th) also came through with a $100,000 state grant.
That led the center to renegotiate the burdensome mortgage with Fifth Third. The Cincinnati-based bank agreed to forgive $2 million in debt if the 40,000-square-foot arts center managed to raise $500,000 in a year. The effort was dubbed the BAC Challenge.
Center supporters surpassed the challenge, raising $1.25 million, Tim Enright, treasurer of the center's board, said Monday.
Money raised beyond the initial $500,000 goal was applied to the remaining mortgage. This left a $1 million mortgage on the property — a more reasonable debt for a community art center, Enright said.
Still, Enright had trouble finding someone willing to write a new mortgage, largely as a result of the art center's troubled past. He approached seven banks during the last year. None were interested, including Beverly Bank, which Enright contacted 10 times before finally reaching an agreement.
“Dennis and his team certainly listened every time we contacted them, but they were cautious and would not commit. Ultimately, they said ‘yes’ because we kept sharing the community’s growing financial support of the BAC Challenge over several months. And they share our vision for what it takes to make a community strong and vibrant,” Enright said.
O'Malley said the broad community support for the BAC Challenge, which included donations large and small from roughly 1,800 people was a driving factor behind making the 20-year loan. He also said the Beverly Arts Center's financial platform was now on solid ground.
"The numbers made sense," he said.
Finally, O'Malley said the bank was encouraged by the strong leadership of the board of directors as well as the vision of Heather Ireland Robinson, who was named executive director of the center in February.
But Stevie Ray Vaughn may have had subtle influence in the deal.
O'Malley was in the audience on Aug. 22 as Tributosaurus performed the songs of the legendary guitarist at the center. Days later, Beverly Bank agreed to the new mortgage.
O'Malley hopes in addition to being business partners, Beverly Bank will also team up with the Beverly Arts Center in other ways.
O'Malley said the bank may use the art center's 400-seat theater to host financial literacy seminars and other events down the road — so long as those events don't interfere with his favorite tribute bands.
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