There is an unmistakable warning in the preface to the Metropolis Report, commissioned by the Arlington Heights performing arts center's board of directors and the village of Arlington Heights. "In its present form," the Metropolis Task force writes, "Metropolis will not survive without drastic and timely changes."
That line should send a chill up the spine of every resident and downtown business owner in Arlington Heights. Besides having a big physical footprint, the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre drives business to the downtown, and its school of the performing arts is a unique and successful venture. Primarily, though, the facility has the potential to be a valuable house of the arts smack in the middle of the suburbs.
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The cultural aspects of any town are important to its identity, and Metropolis is a big asset to Arlington Heights. At the time the panel was formed, Metropolis was suffering from overspending, inconsistent programming and growing audience indifference. Happily, some of that has been addressed in the past six months -- including a cutback in spending and a rise in attendance -- and it is vital the Metropolis board continues on this path.
The good news in the 23-page report is that the task force does not believe Metropolis is doomed. The challenges, however, are steep.
In the process, the task force urges the center to study and make public the financial benefit of Metropolis to Arlington Heights. To that end, either Metropolis or the village should commission an unbiased study as soon as possible.
Charlie Beck, executive director, has estimated Metropolis adds $4 million to $5 million annually to the village economy. Whatever the figure, an accurate, independent quantification of this value will quell some of the negativity surrounding the village's continued support, and also, as the report points out, give a solid footing to the funding the village provides.
The village is not an insignificant contributor already. It funnels money from the food and entertainment tax directly to Metropolis. It has bailed Metropolis out in times of financial stress. The village owns the performing arts center and, recognizing its value, charges a negligible rent, as well as taking responsibility for all capital improvements there.
Metropolis needs to repay that faith. Besides adopting the task force recommendations, it should make the report public. The document is not posted anywhere, and even the task force members were told to turn in their copies. Not to share a major assessment with its public is a poor show of faith for an organization that says it is taking the recommendations seriously and was in the process of fixing its operations even before the report was final.
That the present Metropolis board is bogged down under the weight of its predecessors' mistakes is unfortunate. Its mission now is to get the center's house in order. The task force has provided the blueprint.