Before building a new public structure, gaining public awareness and support of it makes sense and is always desirable as public property and funding will be involved. The MUF and ACE (Arts Community Education; formerly Performing Arts) committees and Mayor Fahey have all supported this.
The MUF conceptual design presented to Council on April 11, 2023, was a collaboration of an ad hoc ACE committee of 7 residents and a construction company’s architectural-designer. The structure covers almost 16,000 square feet on the former Jones property. It would cost $8 million.
At that April meeting, the ACE presenter admitted that no open public forums were held. Councilor Alsobrook suggested that a “structured outreach approach” be used so that the general public could learn and give input. That has not happened. Perhaps an approach would be for the ACE group to participate in open forums with the public — including the current MUF committee — that are Zoomed and recorded so that the public can learn about the plans and rationales and interact actively with the designers.
The recent Comprehensive Plan survey current results offer a sense about how residents feel about a large regional theater in the middle of town. Respondents strongly say that the “historic, small town Village character” is most highly valued (4.82/5.0 weighed mean) and that increased traffic is strongly felt to decrease “quality of life in Corrales over the next ten years. (approximately 2/3 of respondents)” Both issues can be impacted negatively by a large regional theater near the middle of town.
For the record: I like the arts in Corrales and favor an Arts and Cultural designation. I also favor a multi-use facility, but do not favor the current regional theater design.
The survey included a question about do you favor “Building a multi-use center for education, community and the arts on the Jones property west of the post office and north of the recreation center.” However, this question is vague and possibly misleading. The unmentioned Elephant in the room in this survey question is the MUF’s proposed “regional” theater, which features an extensive stage, banked and tiered seating for 240 people, and rooms for rehearsal, dressing and storage. This regional theater covers 70% of the MUF’s total area, and it comprises a higher percentage of its cost. Its seating capacity is that of a good-sized movie theater. Saying, “Yes” to “multi-use center for education, community and the arts” might be construed by some as saying “Yes” to MUF and its big city, large regional theater, but that assumption is an unjustifiable leap. Those are two very different questions.
The facility was first called the “Performing Art Center.” The committee of seven realized that this wouldn’t sell, so renamed it as the “Arts Community and Education Center.” This then morphed into the “Multi-use Facility.” The name kept getting more general, but the building remains basically a large, extensive theater complex with several extra rooms for education and community and a gallery area added on for inclusion.
The Comprehensive Plan survey displays a running composite tally of responses to questions. Interestingly, for unknown reason(s), the tally for only the question about “Building a multi-use center…” was never shown.
I have personally asked at Village Hall for the results and learned that about 30% of 1100 survey respondents strongly favor the proposed MUF. That number is 4.6% of the population of Corrales over 17 years old (which is 7,250 by census).
Mail notices were sent out telling residents about the survey, but many (including me) did not receive them.
Also, multiple staffers at unnamed Village facilities have observed some proponents of the MUF mentioning/bragging/teasing about voting multiple times. This is not a joking or bragging matter. Unfortunately, with the SurveyMonkey tool used, voting multiple times and “stuffing” the ballot box is easily done, just one click away.
Furthermore, Village Hall has asked a person with a large listserv to send around a message with a link to the survey encouraging people to take it. Village Hall should not be asking any specific person or persons to take the survey without similarly extending that invite equally to all people and groups. Probably some of the efforts to get residents to fill out the survey are naively well-intended, but they can bias the results so that any conclusions made from them have less credibility.
The villagers’ response rate to the survey so far is about 15% of people over 17 years old.
The survey’s results so far do not support the April MUF’s conceptual design.
A very small number of people conceptualized the April MUF design. General public input seems to say that this might not be particularly desirable. More options are possible. One might be to replace the theater space with an open room with movable seats as compared to fixed seats on terraced banking. This space could be used for many kinds of activities including plays, musical and dance performances, meetings, forums, rallies, public dances and more. It would be a truly multi-use space. It would cost much less and have more flexibility and uses than the currently proposed theater space.
Hopefully, the MUF committee, ACE committee and the whole community can openly continue this discussion. We don’t need more surveys now which are difficult to do correctly for a cross-sectional approach; we need open communication. The message to the public should not be, “This is our one design. Take it or leave it.” Many conceptual designs are possible and considering several could make the project stronger and more widely accepted. Let’s try to dialog together and make the MUF sensible and attractive to our Village.