FRISCO — Now that the once trumpeted Collin County Arts Hall is dead, the question now emerging is: What happened to the millions of dollars in donations?
“I want my money back,” said Al Brewster.
Back in 2009, the Frisco great-grandfather donated $500 to the proposed performance hall in Allen. The 82-year-old is now suing the city of Frisco in small claims court to get his donation back.
“I don’t get upset easily. I’m not being shot at,” the former Marine said. “But I’m certainly disappointed.”
Plans for the 2,100-seat performance hall dissolved nearly three years ago. Fundraising collapsed in the recession, and construction on the $70 million campus along State Highway 121 never started.
Brewster is particularly mad at the city of Frisco — one of the founding partners — for pulling out of the project in 2011, sealing the center’s fate.
“I’m upset the city of Frisco injected themselves,” he said. “I’m hoping to win my case in small claims court.”
Frisco also later rejected another idea to spin the project off into a separate non-profit. Brewster reasons since his city — in effect — helped doom the project, Frisco ought to refund donors.
“There is a tremendous number of people, corporations, and organizations that did exactly the same thing I did — in good faith,” Brewster said.
The city would not comment, saying it hadn’t received the lawsuit. Voters, however, approved the idea of no further funds for the project in 2011.
Yet Brewster’s case does raise an interesting point of what should happen to the donations... and who should be reimbursed.
Over years of fundraising, the arts center accepted nearly $8 million in donations. That’s on top of the $11 million three northern suburbs — Frisco, Plano, and Allen — chipped in.
Arts hall directors say much of the money has been spent on things like administration staff, architectural drawings, and studies. The project no longer has a paid staff and is now overseen by the Arts Center of North Texas’ board.
“We’re in a holding pattern,” said Bob Baggett, president of the center’s board of directors.
The arts center has about $2.4 million left. Directors are awaiting instructions from the member cities over how to carve up the remaining assets.
“We’re pretty much at the direction of the cities,” Baggett said.
He expects the remaining money to be returned to the cities. Individuals, he said, won’t likely be reimbursed, and should have known the money would not be returned if the project was never realized.
Those donations went to help pay for the center’s early planning and did “not have any restrictions on how they were spent,” Baggett said.
Brewster maintains that he wouldn’t have sent his money to a project that would never exist.
“I don’t think anyone ever had any real consideration that it was not going to be built,” he said, adding he often cuts back at home so he can make charitable donations. “You won't see anybody cutting my lawn; I do it myself. Anything I can do to save money so I can contribute $500 is what I do.”