I will preface this post with the statement that this is the sole opinion of Andy Szekely and not the Farmers’ Market Board or Lansdale Borough– yet. Part of my role of mayor is to foster discussion and this blog is one way of doing just that, especially since I can’t attend the 311 West Main Street meetings on Tuesday nights. 311 West Main Street is certainly a hot potato and most likely will be for some time as we have seen from the discussion at last Tuesday’s meeting. Having been involved with the arts as the President of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Symphony Orchestra for two years and on the Board for seven years, and having spoken to John Toner who manages the Ambler, Bryn Mawr and Doylestown theaters, and having spoken to Bill Quigley of the Sellersville Theater, and having spoken to Tom Quinn of the Montgomery Theater and numerous others there is a common consensus: the idea of “if you build it they will come” is Hollywood fantasy. What usually happens with a performance venue is that the organization is in existence first and then as the organization grows and is successful, a suitable building is found and that then becomes its home.
The other problem with the arts is that they are subjective. What one person considers art another may consider noise or ugly and therefore, not worthy of tax payer dollars. This inherently presents a problem each election cycle especially when the Borough is footing almost the entire bill. Don’t misunderstand me, I am a patron of the arts, however, the issue here is that the Borough has subsidized the lion’s share of the investment in this project and the percentage of ownership is only to get larger. In other words, there is almost no private equity in 311 West Main Street. In the theaters named above, the public sector investment is less than 25%.
After having participated in this week’s branding session, there is general agreement and enthusiasm about the Farmers’ Market. The Farmers’ Market is one of the best things to happen to Lansdale. It brings out residents, it is green, it is local and it is healthy and after three years, it is an established organization. They are also looking for a home. And food is not nearly as controversial as the arts.
Here is a possible solution to our 311 West Main Street woes: keep the black box in the back, bring it up to code and have the performances there. With 210 seats it’s a start for cabaret, garage bands, small theater and the like. Think baby steps and if there is success with the black box in the back, then possibly expand to accommodate the increased demand. As for the original, Masonic Lodge part of 311 West Main Street, bring that up to code, leave it a little rough with the hardwood floors, exposed ceilings– similar to Reading Terminal Market– and allow a few food vendors to come in: cheese, meat, bread, etc. It serves a need for a year round Farmers’ Market, and the arts can still be enjoyed in the back. And it saves the taxpayers another expensive experiment. Just food (local and green) for thought.