Arts Center Lacks Cash 

Then there is the money the group plans to receive.

Private donors have pledged about $9.6 million — "hard pledges" that are legally binding contracts, says L. Bradford Armstrong, president and CEO of the foundation. Another $27 million in public money has been committed, with more than half of that on the contingency that four localities approve a 1 percentage point increase in the lodging tax later this year.

The deficit has the arts group more than a little concerned. It needs to raise $48.2 million by next July in order to get a planned $15.8 million tax infusion from the city of Richmond. (In order to get the money, collected from last year's meals-tax increase, the city ordinance specifies that the arts foundation must show that it has raised the rest of the money for the first phase of the arts center by July 1, 2005.)

That $48.2 million needed by the foundation could balloon by $14 million to more than $62 million later this year if the lodging tax increase doesn't pass. Richmond and the counties of Henrico and Hanover are expected to approve the tax hike, but Chesterfield County may balk. Hoteliers in Chesterfield have been the loudest critics thus far, arguing that it's unfair to tax hotels 20 to 30 miles away from the planned Performing Arts Center and the Richmond Convention Center, recipients of the tax revenue. All four localities must approve the tax for it to be enacted in any jurisdiction, according to state law.

A community fair in the Woodlake subdivision will be held Oct. 10 in hopes of generating more public support for the tax increase. Still, Armstrong says the foundation will wait until after the November elections before asking the four locales to vote. The future of the arts center — particularly whether it will be constructed by 2007 in time for the hoped-for arrival of the Queen of England — depends, for now, on Chesterfield's Board of Supervisors.

"It's somewhat of a battleground for us," Armstrong says.

The foundation says the entire arts complex project, including improvements and endowments for the Empire, Landmark and National theaters, will cost $168.2 million. — Scott Bass

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