The Center for the Arts. Photo: Nick Sulzer // Buckrail

JACKSON, Wyo. — The Center for the Arts received approval from the town and county to refinance their mortgage for a lower interest rate, moving from First Interstate Bank to First Republic Bank.

The Jackson Town Council and the Teton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) approved the request, but only after there was a lengthy discussion about the Center for the Arts past missteps and lease violations. Teton County and the Town of Jackson own the land where the Center is located.

The Center for the Arts entered a lease agreement with the town and county in 2003. When the lease was renegotiated in 2016, it was discovered that the Center for the Arts violated the lease, by borrowing money against their leasehold interest, in the amount of $7 million for a construction loan. Today, the remaining balance is about $600,000.

Councilmember Jonathan Schechter shared frustrations about the Center’s past lease violations. He said, “It seems to me that there is a history there, of rather than asking for permission, it’s going ahead and asking forgiveness. Now they are coming to us and they are asking for something and it seems like a relatively trivial thing and I’ll probably support it but there’s also what seems to be a culture of impunity if you will. And if we vote against it, it looks like we are against the arts or something like that which is not what we are.” 

He went on to ask for “some sort of assurance that if we are going to enter in good faith into a contract with them that they will respond in good faith,” adding, “how intentional it was or how much oversight I don’t know but it is of some concern to me.” 

Teton County Chief Deputy Attorney, Keith Gingery explained that he was working for the county in 2016 at the time of the lease renegotiation. He said, “we were not aware” and that part of the problem was “lack of sophistication” from the Center.

“We actually put a paragraph in the 2016 lease saying, hey you shouldn’t have done this but we see you did it, so it’s okay, please don’t ever do it again,” said Gingery. 

Gingery went on to explain the reasoning these types of violations can not occur. “What would happen if they default? So now First Republic Bank is now running The Center for the Arts? And then it gets very confusing, they try to run it for profit? Who knows what they would do. We cant have other third parties coming in and seizing assets.”

In 2019, the Center again violated the lease when they lost their 501(c)3, non-profit status because they did not file the correct paperwork to the IRS. They eventually received reinstatement. 

While the Center lacked 501(c)3 status, donors could not donate tax-free so the Center took out a $300,000 line of credit from First Interstate Bank. This line of credit will be included in the refinancing of the mortgage, for a total of $910,000.

Attorney Jim Coleman, who represents the Center, said that the $300,000 is a revolving line of credit, “meant to cover short term cash needs, its set up to be paid down to zero every year.” 

Executive Director Marty Camino, who joined the Center in August of 2020, assured the Councilmembers and Commissioners that the Center was doing well.

“We are currently in a strong financial position, as mentioned earlier, the line of credit came in in 2019, during that 501(c)3 lapse and it was something that we renewed in 2020 because of the pandemic. With the continued financial uncertainties of the time, it is very much to our advantage to keep that in place if possible. But I do want to assure you that particularly over the last year and the circumstances we’ve been through we’ve made all best efforts to control our costs to reduce our operating costs, including through this refinance of the mortgage, some staffing reduction, and we are in a strong position as we move to the post-pandemic world,” said Camino. 

BCC Chair, Natalia Macker defended the Center, pointing out the work the Center has done to support the organizations housed within the Center during the pandemic, specifically through rent relief, and the importance of the programming those organizations provide the community. Macker said, “the center is here as the Center but they are also part of an arts ecosystem.” 

Camino shared how the rent relief was essential to those organizations housed in the Center, and how this mortgage refinance was essential to the Center as a whole. He said, “In 2021 alone we have offered over $200,000 in direct rent relief to our resident organizations and so this opportunity to refinance and reduce our costs as we have extended that same to the resident organizations is important for us and for all of those organizations.” 

The Council and the Board ultimately passed a resolution, unanimously approving the refinance, “in an amount not to exceed $910,000.00, which includes only the outstanding balance of its original loan and its new line of credit.”

Camino assured the Council and the Board that a 2020 status report from the Center for the Arts would be available in the coming weeks.

Buckrail @ Lindsay

Lindsay Vallen is a Community News Reporter covering a little bit of everything; with an interest in politics, wildlife, and amplifying community voices. Originally from the east coast, Lindsay has called Wilson, Wyoming home since 2017. In her free time, she enjoys snowboarding, hiking, cooking, and completing the Jackson Hole Daily crosswords.