The Future of 311 West Main Street

I posted on Facebook on Thursday that I would provide my solution to the “riddle of 311 West Main Street” in response to Bill Henning’s following comment:

Politics at it’s worst. Something as big and important as this should definitely have been on the agenda. Not doing so is SO irresponsible of our council people and mayor.

I suppose now it’ll sit vacant for years until it becomes just another eyesoreand lost Lansdale historical building, eventually the state will be looking for their 1.5m returned and yet another lost opportunity to bring people & new quality businesses in town.

For the sake of this town that I love so much, I hope I am proved wrong but currently I fail to see ANYTHING proposed to bring some heart & soul back into our downtown like the 311 arts would be able to do if all our leaders stood behind it and worked for the common goal rather than constantly put it down and be an impenetrable obstacle.

Unfortunately, it was the government that kept the building vacant for the past five years while it analyzed it to death at the cost of the tax payers– over $1 million since it was shuttered in 2010. Three consultants– AMS, Laura Burnham and Schultz & Williams– said different things while those interested in seeing the arts take off in Lansdale waited for government to be the answer. More time and the government will figure it out. Well, we saw how that worked.

Now onto the solution. In the three days since Wednesday night’s Council meeting, no less than four interested parties have come forth with four different ideas for 311 West Main Street. Now keep in mind this is preliminary, but each of these potential uses for the building will bring people into Borough and this is just the beginning. Imagine what other proposals will come in the weeks to come and what choices the Borough will have to foster growth on Main Street.

Furthermore, if the 311 Arts Board is seriously committed to the arts in Lansdale and securing the building for its venue, now is the time to put together a business plan and raise the money to buy 311 West Main Street. It will certainly be a few months before it actually goes up for sale giving the 311 Arts Board time to organize and fund raise. And the building most certainly won’t sell for the $5,000,000 the Borough put into it, so there you have the public money put into the project. Now, it’s time for the private money to come to the table.

There are residents that I will never please, and I have already been condemned by those who say that what I and others Council members did was underhanded. However, as an elected official I have to make difficult decisions and voting on ‘yes’ on the motion to sell 311 West Main Street is one decision about which I have no regrets.




4 responses to “The Future of 311 West Main Street

  1. Andy, there will always be people who want to complain about the sale of 311 W. Main – but many residents believe that you and council made the correct decision. 311 W. Main was a drain on borough funds. If anyone cares to look into it, there are several other arts organizations in the area that residents can take part in and support.

  2. There are reasons for the decision made that may be agreed by some and disagreed by others, but it WAS underhanded to do the vote the way it was done, without all of the council members present, and without the topic on the agenda for residents to know if they wanted to be present for the end of the meeting. Underhanded dealings will always be remembered with bad feelings — no matter how ‘positive’ the end results of the decision may be.

  3. Judy, I appreciate your comments but I disagree with them. Ray Liberto was indeed absent from the meeting but as he and I had discussed this issue at length for months we were in agreement, so his absence was not something that would have changed the vote. As the mayor, I have a quiet responsibility to oversee Council– almost like a grandfather sitting on a rocking chair looking after his family. The decision to divest the Borough of 311 West Main Street needed to happen, and there was no easy way to do it. If the motion was advertised, there would have been the exact same outcry that there will be on November 19th. There will be the same platitudes we’ve heard for the past ten years: “Lansdale needs the arts” and “This building will be the catalyst to spur our renaissance”. Yes, Lansdale needs the arts, but the government has shown how inept it is at trying to create an arts center from nothing. Here’s one detailed illustration of just how backwards Lansdale’s approach to creating an arts center has been since 2010 not to mention from 2004.

    During the September business meeting we learned that the Borough spent close to $500,000 on architectural fees for 311 West Main Street. This number represents close to complete architectural plans– not conceptual drawings. According to Ms. Kirchner in an email explaining the price of the architectural work she said, “They [Speizle] worked with a combination of staff, consultants and citizens such that the construction documents are complete, and project specifications are almost complete as well. This work also includes all of the interior material selections, finishes, equipment which includes stage, kitchen and furniture along with significant stage, sound and lighting equipment. With very minimal work, the project could go out to bid.”

    This was done before Schultz & Williams had completed their assessment of 311 and called it a “riddle of a building”. Then there was discussion in Council at that same meeting about separating the arts from the building because of the newly assessed costs of $7.5 million by the same architect that quoted the Borough $3.5 million a few years earlier. At the last meeting, Richard Strahm had made the proposal to at least have the fronts of 311 remain open while they put together a phased approach for developing the building into an arts center. This is what AMS consultants proposed in 2012, but at that time Council rejected that advice saying they didn’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past therefore the Borough needed an “all in approach”.

    So in a nutshell, the Borough has hired three consultants which have offered advice that either the Arts Task Force rejected or the 311 Arts Board didn’t agree with while in July 2011 Spiezle charged the Borough close to half a million dollars for nearly “complete” architectural drawings for a a $3,440,093 renovation (based on their July 15, 2011 311 Building Analysis Recommendations Report) that was called a “riddle” by one consultant three years later and is now estimated to cost $7.5 million.

    I hope you see my frustration with this project. This explanation may not assuage your opinion of how the decision was taken, but given the knowledge that I had and tried to convey to the public through this blog and other means, I believe that Tom Work who made the motion and the other Council members and I who voted for it made the right decision.

    • Andy, while I may, or may not, agree with the decision resulting from the vote, the new distrust of Lansdale politics entirely rests on the circumstances of having a vote on such an emotional topic without advance notice, or even notification during that meeting to the Borough citizens and individuals who had attended a long meeting and left before the final conclusion, thinking the critical agenda business was finished. Had you waited for a meeting when the full Council was present, you could have possibly been spared being in the tiebreaker position (which you undoubtedly knew you were facing when the vote was called that night). I understand there was a motion to delay the vote until the full Council could attend and public notification concerns were addressed, so there was an opportunity to wait for more appropriate timing.

      We can discuss, debate, disagree all day, but the individuals who called for, and supported the vote for this decision in the manner that it was voted, and under the circumstances that the vote was called, have placed more focus on a divided Council. Was it worth it? The ‘side’ that won certainly seems to have gotten their way, but I believe it was at a huge cost to the respect and civility that I believe the Council and the Mayor’s office needs in order to work successfully together. It was also at a huge cost to the respect level many of the residents have for the politicians involved. Believe me, ‘frustration’ is all around!

      We will have to agree to disagree on the end result of the vote. It was a given that when a vote would take place, one side would be thrilled and one side would be unhappy with the results, but the manner in which THIS vote took place just seems to be backhanded politics. Thanks for letting me share my opinion.

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