Spotlight's on McKinney to help fund Collin County arts hall

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by By ED HOUSEWRIGHT

wfaa.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:45 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 2:18 PM

The Arts of Collin County celebrated a $1 million donation on Thursday from AT&T. Only $19 million to go.

That's the amount needed to build the 2,100-seat arts hall that's been envisioned for almost a decade. And it's the exact amount voters in Allen, Frisco and Plano each have pledged to the $85 million project.

McKinney, meanwhile, has remained conspicuously absent from participation. Now the spotlight shines brighter than ever on McKinney. If the county seat anted up $19 million too, the funding problem would be solved.

Don't count on it.

McKinney voters narrowly rejected a $19 million contribution in 2002. Despite ongoing pleas from hall supporters, the City Council refuses to call another election.

And the current economic downturn makes council members even more reluctant to put the issue to voters.

"We'll be struggling to make ends meet," council member Pete Huff said. "Property values are down, so tax revenues are going to go down."

Mike Simpson, the hall's new executive director, plays the part of a hopeful suitor. He wants McKinney's participation but can't push too hard. He patiently waits for a show of interest.

"Personally, I feel it will happen," said Mr. Simpson, a former Frisco mayor. "It's a matter of timing."

The courtship of McKinney has continued for years. In summer 2007, the Arts of Collin County Commission had its most hopeful sign. The McKinney council debated whether to give residents another chance to contribute $19 million.

But the council decided against an election. Members said the booming town had more pressing needs, such as public safety and road improvements. Plus, participation in the arts hall could require a tax increase, they said.

Arts commission members left the council chambers disappointed but not dejected. They have continued to pursue the city.

"McKinney is fully aware of our hope they will participate," said Steve Matthews, president of the Arts of Collin County Commission.

Hall supporters may be pining for McKinney, but they're realistic enough to pursue other funding sources. Mr. Simpson, who took over as executive director last week, plans to spread the gospel of the arts hall far and wide. He'll talk to corporate CEOs and soccer moms. He'll take contributions of $100 or $1 million.

Mr. Simpson hopes to raise the remaining $19 million within a year. Once people learn more about the hall, he thinks, people will give. The multiuse venue would be the centerpiece of a 124-acre arts park near Custer Road and State Highway 121 in Allen.

He and other arts officials beamed Thursday as AT&T announced the $1 million gift.

"It moves us one step closer to building a one-of-a-kind arts hall and arts park," Mr. Simpson said.

Discussions with the AT&T Foundation about a donation began more than two years ago. The announcement happened to fall on Mr. Simpson's fourth day on the job.

"Thanks for making my first week very fulfilling," he said to AT&T's Holly Reed.

Afterward, I did a little math. Mr. Simpson doesn't have to raise $1 million a week to reach his $19 million goal within a year.

But he does have to average $365,385 a week. That's a big number.

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