Will Southfield Privatize the Arts?

SOUTHFIELD-The city of Southfield is considering selling its performing arts center, the Southfield Centre for the Arts, which costs the taxpayers $700,000 in annual subsidies. And no wonder: For many years, the center’s ability to help the art community has been in serious doubt. To the great credit of Parks and Recreation Director Bill Waterhouse, he admits that the city can’t afford to subsidize an art center and told The Detroit News, “I don’t know that you need a special venue to say you’re supportive of the arts.”

The city has placed a minimum bid on the property of $3,150,000. It is also willing to lease the center, but financial details of a lease arrangement were not available as MPR went to press.

The center never was fully modified from its former use as a synagogue and, since then, has fallen into disrepair. The city didn’t spend enough money to properly transform it at its conception and has not been able to allocate enough money for its proper upkeep. The performance stage has no backstage or dressing rooms. Lighting is poor, security poses special problems, and furniture has deteriorated to the point that it is almost useless.

The city tried to salvage the center, renting out some of the space for conferences and other special events. However, the plan never greatly reduced annual subsidies.

But not everyone agrees with privatization. In the March 12 edition of The Detroit News, Collette Gilewicz, director of the Southfield Philharmonic and executive director of Young Audiences of Michigan is quoted as saying the fact that the center is not making a profit is irrelevant, and that other programs such as the public golf course are not making a profit either.

We agree. The golf course should be privatized, too.

Privatization would determine whether there actually is demand in the Southfield community for an arts center, or whether the building or property could be better put to some other use. After all, the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center is practically next-door in Dearborn. It has a $10 million annual operating budget and the building is new.