Is the Wayne issue driving the city elections?
It has been seven months since Waynesboro City Council decided against acting on a proposal from the Wayne Theatre Alliance to have the city participate in a public-private project to renovate the 1926 downtown landmark.
You’d think from listening to the rhetoric in this spring’s city-council elections that the issue was still very much on the table.
“I’m not going to let that issue go – because it could come back. That’s why we’re serving this up. This is an issue,” said Frank Lucente, one of the three members of council who expressed publicly their unwillingness to back the effort to have the city partner with the Alliance in a $7.5 million Wayne Theatre restoration last summer.
Lucente and another councilman, Tim Williams, who also opposed the effort, are endorsing the third member of the trio, Reo Hatfield, who is the only one of the three whose seat is up for re-election this spring.
Hatfield has joined Lucente and Williams in doing his part to keep the Wayne Theatre issue alive for the voters.
“I’m not saying I’m against the Wayne Theatre Alliance as a group. I didn’t vote against the Wayne Theatre Alliance. I voted against the Wayne Theatre Alliance getting $3.8 million from the city and $3.8 million from the citizens,” Hatfield said.
“I will not vote for taxpayers paying for the Wayne Theatre – that is clearcut. And so far, and the campaign has been going on for months, the other two candidates have not said one way or the other whether they support it or not,” Hatfield told The Augusta Free Press.
Smith and the third candidate in the Ward D race, DuBose Egleston, for their part, are taking issue with the statements made by Hatfield and his supporters relative to their positions on the Wayne.
“There are many, many things that need to be looked at – the West End fire station, stormwater management, economic development. I’m not against the Wayne Theatre – I’m not against some form of financial support for the Wayne Theatre. I think there are just a lot of questions that have not been answered about this,” Egleston said.
“The timing is very poor. The tax rate has been cut 19 cents in the past two years. That’s $2.4 million a year. There are just more important things that need to be addressed with the taxpayers’ money than the Wayne Theatre,” Egleston told the AFP.
“The Wayne Theatre simply has no merit in terms of this race. And I’m hoping that the community sees that,” Smith said. “We need to talk about what’s really going on in our community right now – and what the Wayne Theatre Alliance is doing is not an issue that’s before city council or will be before city council.
“It’s tough for me to determine as far as why it’s being brought up relative to my candidacy. The only thing that I can come up with is that I think that this is an area that basically divided the council last year, and I think that it’s just an issue that seems to have some vulnerability,” Smith told the AFP.
The vulnerability for Smith comes in the identity of one of the members of her campaign team – Bill Hausrath, a local developer who is also the chair of the Wayne Theatre Alliance.
Hatfield points to Hausrath’s presence on the Smith team as evidence that the Wayne issue is driving her campaign.
“It’s pretty evident that the leader of the Wayne Theatre is the primary source for support in her campaign. And the fact is that he is endorsing Lorie Smith because, I feel, that he didn’t get his way with the Wayne Theatre,” Hatfield said.
Hausrath, who backed Williams in his bid for the Ward A seat on city council in 2004, makes clear that he is not supporting Smith with any idea of a quid pro quo in mind.
“If the Wayne Theatre wasn’t there, if the Wayne Theatre was completely removed, I would still be supporting Lorie Smith. If I wasn’t the chairman of the Alliance, if I hadn’t spent four years on this project, if I was just me, doing just what I do, I think what we’re seeing in Waynesboro is going too far,” Hausrath told the AFP.
“Mr. Hatfield’s viewpoint on this is a very narrow viewpoint,” Smith said. “Bill Hausrath has done a lot of things for this community. He was part of the team that got Fairfax Hall renovated. He’s been an integral part of the YMCA. And the Wayne Theatre Alliance is just another example. He’s somebody that is vested in our community in a well-rounded way.
“To say that because this was a vote that was split on the council, and because Bill is one of many people backing my candidacy, that’s an easy place for Reo’s campaign to go to,” Smith said. “Bill and I have had this conversation many times. He is not backing me because of any type of vendetta or anything that he has regarding moving on with the Wayne Theatre Alliance. Bill believes in my leadership, he believes in the record that I set and what I can bring to city council.
“My perspective on this is that the city council dealt with this issue last year. And the Wayne Theatre Alliance has now moved on – with a $3.2 million plan that doesn’t include city funding. They offered up a plan last year, and city council had the opportunity to review it and judge it, and they made their decision. Frankly, I think we need to move on. This is not a campaign issue,” Smith said.
The Alliance, as Smith mentioned, has moved on – scaling back its $7.5 million proposal from last year to a $3.2 million project that will focus on bringing the Wayne, which closed as a first-run movie theatre in 1999, back into operational condition.
The Wayne Theatre Alliance’s executive director, Clair Myers, made that news public with a pair of presentations to city-based civic clubs this month – one of which was attended by Hatfield and Lucente.
“The campaign has the basic assumption that there will be no city financing of that plan. What we are looking at is assembling money from a variety of sources, but not city taxpayers,” Myers said.
The financing for the project now in the works, Myers said, includes in the area of $1 million in historic tax credits that are expected to be made available in the coming months, a $1 million capital campaign, a $500,000 grant from the Virginia General Assembly that was approved last spring and another $500,000 leadership grant.
“The spin on this from the politicians who want to use this as a negative is to paint those people as kind of greedy culture-makers who want to go out and pick the pocket of the taxpayer – when in fact that is absolutely the opposite of what has been going on,” Myers told the AFP.
Lucente counters that “while they’re saying they’ve narrowed the scope of their project down, and that they’re going to go out and do it privately now, I also read in the paper when they hired their new executive director, and he said his job was to change one of the councilmen’s minds.”
“If they get three council members in there who are for the project, then they may come back and say, Well, let’s do it. We’ve got the support now,” Lucente said.
The article that Lucente referred to did include a statement that “Myers’ job is to sway the three council members who voted against using tax dollars to renovate the theatre.” The statement was not attributed to Myers – and he said last week that it has never been part of his job description to try to sway anybody’s mind relative to the Wayne project.
“From the point one, we’ve never thought that we would change the minds of those council members who voted against it last year. I think that’s not a very productive use of time or energy,” Myers said.
Smith herself wonders aloud why the Wayne is being made an issue in the council campaign.
“Let’s start talking in this campaign on the real issues. Let’s start talking about issues of stormwater. Let’s start talking about issues that are important to the citizens right now. Let’s talk about flooding issues. Let’s talk about issues of infrastructure. Let’s start talking in this campaign what is meaningful to the citizens today,” Smith said.
Lucente strongly disagrees with the contention that the Wayne issue has nothing to do with the 2006 election.
“They’re saying that they’re not going to use any money from the city. I’m all for that – but if they get those people that they want elected, and they get the support from the council, what’s to keep them from changing their mind again?” Lucente said.
Hatfield was more to the point.
“The initial proposal was $11 million. Then recently, it went to $7 million. Now the project is down to just over $3 million. So their whole philosophy has changed – which is probably for the best, because what they originally wanted from the city of Waynesboro is more than what they’re projecting now,” Hatfield said.
“There is a misconception here. The Wayne Theatre Alliance wanted the city to be its primary partner. The three city councilmen who voted against said that we don’t want to be and will not be the primary partner in a private enterprise. And we’re being criticized for that?” Hatfield said.
The criticism, to hear Hausrath tell it, isn’t related to the council members voting their conscience.
“It seems to me that the real question is maybe not whether you’re doing this project or another project, but how you make a decision,” Hausrath said.
“I think the world of what Frank Lucente has accomplished with the Boys and Girls Club. I think Reo Hatfield is a generous, caring person. I think Tim Williams has done a wonderful job of providing for his family and serving the school board and stepping up to the plate for city council. I admire all three of those guys for what they’ve accomplished. But I think we’re out of balance,” Hausrath said.
“We want efficiency, we want economy – and I think what I sense happening is the feeling that we have about all the good things that our city is trying to do is being circumvented by one desire to cut taxes and be ultraconservative. My sense is that what we need in our city is balance,” Hausrath said.