Arts Center Update 11.23.2016

Planning and Zoning Manager, Mr. Jason Knudsen has provided Council with the most recent update on the Arts Center Feasibility Study.

The organizational analysis portion of the feasibility study is now complete.  Read more about the components of the study here.

The team is still working on the building analysis.  Both the City Fire Marshal and Building Inspector have inspected the school building. And the team arranged for a certified inspector to do an initial assessment for mold, asbestos, and lead–and they got him to do it for FREE.  They’ve really done some amazing work over the past few months–at no cost to the city. Next up: cost analysis.

Next meeting is Monday, November 28th at 6:30 PM, City Hall.

Read previous reports about the feasibility study here.

Here’s the report, which will (per decision of the Council) also be posted to the city’s website.



Q&A: Arts Center…and then some

Recently, I posted the latest update on the Feasibility Study for the Arts Center. On Facebook, I received an inquiry about it. I am posting that with my response:


In addition, I would like to elaborate a bit:

Certainly, we want to be responsive to citizens. In fact, greater citizen participation is one of my goals for the city. And really, that’s what the feasibility study is about too: first we held an event at the school building and invited the public. Mr. Knudsen and the Planning Commission led citizens through a SWOT analysis. Early this year, Mr. Knudsen shared the results from that analysis. Overwhelmingly, the community expressed interest in a cultural/arts center. From there, we made the decision to do a feasibility study—again by seeking citizen participation.   As you know, the study team is comprised of volunteers with expertise in a number of areas relevant to determining if and how an arts center at the school might be feasible. I believe in data-driven and evidence-based decision-making for long-term planning. The feasibility study puts that belief into action.

Then, I received a follow-up reply that brought up a few different issues, and I’d like to address each. There’s not quite enough room on Facebook, though, so I’ve responded here on the #Jenn4Ward3 blog. Here is the follow-up reply I received followed by my response:

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“What about bringing the Public Works Department up to par with equipment?”

Once we became aware of just how bad the situation in Public Works was, solving the problems that stemmed from years of short-term “band-aid” solutions and poor (or lack of planning) became a top priority. In fact, it was the most-discussed item during this year’s budget workshop meetings—and we spent a great deal of time considering the options brought to us by city staff, the experts charged with researching and recommending options in their respective departments. There was no easy solution. We chose (unanimously) the best solution for meeting the City’s needs. If equipment alone would solve the problem, we could have made budget decisions to “bring public works up to par with equipment” “in house” as opposed to privatizing services; unfortunately, as I have explained previously (here) , it’s not just about money for equipment—and it’s not just about yard waste, nor can it be solved simply by adding some employees. The problem we faced was much bigger and more complex than that.

What about some kind of accreditation for the Police Department?

It is my understanding that the PD is seeking to be re-accredited by the state after having allowed that accreditation to lapse earlier this year.

What about the hiring situation for the PD?

We recently hired two new PD employees: 1 in Dispatch and 1 for Patrol. We also promoted two employees at the PD: one from Patrol to Sergeant and 1 from Dispatch to Patrol. The PD’s number one focus for personnel right now is strengthening road patrol. This is a critical need—one Interim Chief Moore is working diligently on (we are currently in the hiring process on several open positions). And Council plans to help him from our end to achieve that goal. That’s why we recently took up the issue in our meetings. It is important to note, however, that solving this problem will take time for a number of reasons:

  1. It’s not a problem that happened over night, so it’s not one that will resolve over night. Since 2012, we’ve had a turnover rate that is about twice the national average. Pinpointing why is important—but it’s also not easy. And realistically, there isn’t usually only one reason why. And that means any solution must be multi-faceted. We have to be sure that whatever we do, we solve the real problem(s) and not just the consequences (i.e. understaffing).
  2. This isn’t just a Simpsonville problem. Police Departments across our region, our state, and this entire country are facing issues with retention and recruitment. Some are understaffed much more than we currently are. That doesn’t make it ok for us—which is why City leadership must make finding and supporting solutions a priority in 2017. We have, as noted above, recently committed to that.
  3. It is a problem that will require some amount of funding. That means we need to be prepared to discuss money at the beginning of next year. And that’s I moved that “Council charge the City Administrator with researching options for effective police recruitment and retention strategies/programs and make recommendations to Council by the first budget meeting of 2017.” The Committee of the Whole voted 6-1 (with Mr. Graham dissenting) to move forward with this. At the Business meeting, we voted 6-0 (Mr. Graham absent) to get moving on it. As I’ve said multiple times, I am a huge advocate for engaging in long-term planning and data-driven, evidence-based decision-making. I feel very strongly that to plan long-term, we must have all of the relevant facts, evidence, and expert feedback possible. Because Mr. Dyrhaug will begin working on compiling that now, we’ll be able to make a well-informed, evidence-based decision when we have our budget workshops next year.

I will conclude by saying that I believe the role of city council is to foster quality of life for all citizens by ensuring the city:

  1. Provides first-rate services (fire, parks & recreation, police, and public works);
  2. Is fiscally responsible (with a keen awareness of how decisions impact taxpayers);
  3. Promotes economic opportunity;
  4. Supports neighborhood vitality; and
  5. Commits to community and cultural programs and services.

I do not think that as a city we can focus only on one area to the exclusion of any other—nor do I think having more than one project going at a time means that any other project is somehow automatically less important. The feasibility study for an Arts Center doesn’t mean that PD Recruitment & Retention is somehow less important. Just as the dire situation in Public Works does not make funding the PD any less important. You asked about priorities, and I’m glad because priorities are important. But we cannot even begin to prioritize until we have the information necessary to make well-informed decisions.

As for the Arts Center, we’ll receive the final report and recommendation early next year—when all the facts, including the financial analysis, are in. And then, we’ll have decisions to make. We’ll also receive the report and recommendation on Police Recruitment and Retention, and we’ll have decisions to make there, too. We’ll receive a lot of other information, and we’ll have a lot of decisions to make; a lot of ranking of priorities will happen. My pledge—as always—is to make my votes after doing my homework and with the best interest of Simpsonville in mind.

6 Month Check-in

It’s been (a little over) 6 months, so it seems like a good time for a recap.

When I was campaigning, I told you that I wanted Simpsonville to focus on three areas: economic development, community & culture, and One Simpsonville, United.

Let’s look at those more closely:

Economic Development:

As I’ve said before, in a city like Simpsonville, community development IS economic development, and as I said at the June Committee of the Whole Meeting, successful municipal community and economic development begins with elected officials making an organizational commitment to community and economic development. At that time, I made a motion to charge our City Administrator with creating a strategic plan for community and economic development in Simpsonville. The Committee moved that motion to the July 12th business meeting for consideration of Council, and Council approved us moving forward with such a plan. This is great news in light of the recently announced MASC economic development grants.

In support of community and economic development, several business and community leaders presented to Mayor Curtis and the City of Simpsonville a check for $1000.00 to illustrate their commitment to partnering with the City in a One Simpsonville effort to make economic development a priority. The City of Simpsonville will seek to grow the account by pursuing grants and in future budgeting efforts.

Community & Culture:

Museum Signs: In April, I was contacted by the Simpsonville Museum of Revolutionary War History (which is run completely by volunteers). They wanted to know if the city could help them purchase some signage to help let the public know their location and hours. I told them that I didn’t think the city could afford to do that given the great number of critical needs we were currently reviewing in our budget workshops. However, I thought this would be a great opportunity to bring together some citizens, businesses, and our government in a One Simpsonville effort to help increase access to this cultural service through signage. So I reached out to Jason Knudsen, our City Planner, to inquire about what kinds of signs would work for the Museum’s purpose. Then, I reached out to our community to ask for their help. Within just two days, we had collected enough money to purchase appropriate signage. Today, if you drive past the historic Simpsonville Elementary School building, you can see these portable sidewalk signs that indicate the location and operating hours of the museum.

Arts Center Feasibility Study: As of July 8th, the Arts Center Feasibility study is officially underway! Read the most recent progress update here. We first started talking about this back in March. Since then, the motion passed from Committee of the Whole to full Council, where it was approved. Mr. Dyrhaug and Mr. Knudsen have since pulled together the appropriate people to help complete the study, so we can determine once and for all whether or not it’s feasible to house an Arts Center in the historic Simpsonville Elementary School. Further, the group of people working together on that feasibility study include business owners, citizens, city staff, and non-profit representatives—and that’s what One Simpsonville is all about.

 Symphony (free!): We brought the Greenville Symphony Orchestra back to Simpsonville for the Independence Day Celebration at Heritage Park. And we were able to do it with free parking and free admission, increasing access to community and cultural programs and services. We were able to offer it free by embracing the One Simpsonville spirit of collaboration and partnership. The event was made possible by partnering with the following:

  • Greenville County,
  • Greenville Health Systems,
  • Greenville Technical College,
  • Lockheed Martin, and
  • Laurens Electric Cooperative.


One Simpsonville, United:

In addition to all the One Simpsonville examples above, we have a few more efforts that come to mind. What these efforts share is a concerted effort to invite citizens, businesses, and non-profits to participate in the processes and projects of the City. They also share a willingness to be open and responsive to the ideas, suggestions, and desire to help improve the community presented by members of our community.

Fire Safety House/Modern Woodmen of America Partnership: This is such a great example of the true One Simpsonville spirit. In this venture, we have truly united our city—its citizens, its businesses, and its government—working together for continuous improvement. Read more about how here.

 Habitat for Humanity of Greenville County: While the City was not an official partner in the recently completed build on Boyd Ave, several city leaders attended the wall-raising and the dedication ceremony and met with Habitat leaders to discuss how to create an effective, mutually beneficial relationship as we move forward. This is important because the Boyd Ave project did include partnerships with many private citizen volunteers, local businesses, and our local faith community. We need to continue to grow such relationships.

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We’ve strengthened our relationship with our Chamber of Commerce. Chamber leaders will be intimately involved in the formulation of the strategic plan for economic development. Recently, the Chamber’s Leadership Simpsonville group presented to us their planned projects for this year, which include the construction of an ADA-approved Sensory Playground and swings and signage for downtown. These projects will be a huge asset to our community. Council voted unanimously to support the projects. You can help donate to the Sensory Playground here. In another recent partnership, the Chamber and the City of Simpsonville worked together to collect, assemble, and distribute appreciation packages to the employees of the Simpsonville Police Department.

We did all of this while also passing a budget with no tax increase. And we worked with Public Works on a plan to privatize some of our sanitation services to save money and increase the quality of service to our citizens.

It’s been a busy year so far, and I’m not saying it’s been perfect, but I am saying this: we’re making progress. We’re moving in the right direction. And we’re going to continue on this path because that’s what’s best for Simpsonville.

Arts Center Feasibility Study Update

1462888226112On July 8th, a meeting was held at the historic Simpsonville Elementary School to begin the work for the feasibility study for the Arts Center (read previous posts related to the Arts Center here). This feasibility study will be completed under the leadership of Mr. Jason Knudsen.

Community members representing these areas of experience will work on the study: grant writing, historic preservation, performing arts, visual arts, architecture/engineering, Simpsonville Arts Foundation, and the Simpsonville Revolutionary War Museum. Each member will volunteer their time and work together to research and answer the questions within each section of the study.

This feasibility study will determine whether an arts center can be successful in Simpsonville. The purpose is to identify roadblocks that may prevent the successful implementation of an arts center. The study will consist of four main components: market analysis, organizational analysis, building and equipment analysis, and financial analysis.

A. Market Analysis

Market analysis is extremely critical in determining the success of an arts center and should be completed first. If the analysis concludes there isn’t a need or a customer/user base, the project is deemed not feasible and the study concludes. Finding answers to the following questions is vital when conducting the market analysis:

  1. What is the current demand for the proposed services/products?
  2.  What are the target markets/demographics?
  3. What are the common characteristics of the target markets/demographics?
  4. What competition exists in the market, how do they operate and what services do they provide?
  5. Can a market niche be established to enable the arts center to compete effectively with existing competition?
  6. How successful is the competition (user counts, profits, occupancy, etc.)? Is the location of the arts center likely to affect its success?

B. Organizational Analysis

If the market analysis supports and shows a need for an arts center, the next step is to determine how the center should be managed. The legal business structure needs to be identified first in order to best understand personnel needs. The following questions will help form the organizational structure:

  1. What legal organizational structure is right for the arts center?
  2. Is a board of directors or a single program director appropriate?
  3. What qualifications should the board/director have?
  4. What qualifications are needed to manage day to day operations?
  5. What other staffing needs will be required and how might that change over the next 2-3 year?

C. Building and Equipment Analysis

In repurposing an older building, renovations and new equipment will be necessary. A thorough analysis of the existing structure will identify required renovation. Equipment needs can cover a wide range of items from telephones to ceramic furnaces and specialized equipment. The key at this stage is to identify what will be needed and the cost. The following are questions to consider during this analysis:

  • Building: What will require renovation? What is the itemized cost and timeline for renovation? How does the ability to complete renovations affect the start-up timeline?
  • Equipment: What are the equipment needs for the arts center? Where will the equipment be sourced form? When can the equipment be obtained?How does the ability to obtain equipment affect the start-up timeline? What is the cost associated with each item/service?

D. Financial Analysis

Financial analysis is the last step to a feasibility study due to the other components being necessary for an accurate understanding of costs and revenue. If the previous steps are not thorough, the financial analysis will not be adequate. The risk here is that the study may show the arts center to be feasible when in reality it’s not. Financial analysis is broken into the following five categories:

  • Start-Up Costs: These are the costs incurred in starting the arts center. These costs include renovations, equipment, etc.
  • Operating Costs: These are the ongoing costs, such as utilities and wages.
  • Revenue Projections: This is an assessment of estimated monthly revenue fromrent and programing.
  • Sources of Financing: Potential lending, donation, and grant sources should be identified.
  • Profitability Analysis: Using the costs and revenue analysis, this step shows the “bottom line” and if the arts center will bring in enough revenue to cover operating expenses. If it’s determined the center will lose money, changes may be made to the proposed programming to see if the bottom line improves.

Since the meeting, the team has started the market analysis.  Stay tuned for more updates!

Arts Center Feasibility Study Update

Arts Center Feasibility Study Update: The Study Committee should be finalized no later than May 13th, 2016. Once finalized, staff will organize an orientation meeting for all involved, based on their availability. The goal of that meeting is to familiarize everyone with each other and the role they will play in the feasibility study. Groups will be formed from the Committee and given tasks to complete concerning the study. Each group will be responsible for creating a timeline to complete their tasks. Staff will support each group and ensure progress is made in a timely manner.

See previous blog post for more on the Arts Center Feasibility Study.


Q&A: “What is Your Vision, Jenn?”

Earlier today I posted this on my Facebook page:

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Tonight, I received a response on that post that asked this: “What is your vision Jenn?”  As with my last response to a Facebook question, I have a little more to say than fits into a Facebook comment box, and I want everyone to have the opportunity to see my response, so I’m posting it here:

First and foremost, I envision the future of the school as a place that is truly for the people, by the people, and of the people. What do the people want? What will most benefit them? How can they make use of the space to improve their lives?

To this end, I think it’s great that Councilman Taylor Graham attended our concerned citizens meeting, recognizing that citizen input is key to determining the best possible usage of that building. I am happy that the city has some sort of plan for focus groups sometime in the future to get citizen feedback.

Regardless of what we decide to do with the elementary school, I firmly believe we need access to the arts for all of our citizens and a stronger commitment to community and cultural programs and services. It is my opinion that the school offers us a unique opportunity as a place that could help us fulfill such a commitment. It’s there. It’s empty. We own it. We need to do something with it. Why not this?

Imagine the school once again alive with the sound of children laughing, playing, learning. And imagine it weren’t just children.

Imagine adults—people of all ages—laughing in the auditorium seats or singing on its stage; drawing, painting, or sculpting in studio classrooms; or browsing halls lined with the work of local & regional artists. Imagine them learning more about Simpsonville’s history during programs like those presented by the Simpsonville Museum of Revolutionary War Museum. Imagine them attending a book reading by a local author.

These are just examples—the specifics of what could and would be offered there would be determined by the people. As I said originally, it would be something that is uniquely Simpsonville—something that encourages community pride for our citizens through arts and culture.

So imagine a place that would enrich all of our lives and our community through a variety of cultural activities, through exposure to the arts, through a shared sense of community. That’s my vision.

And it’s a vision that will yield multiple social and economic benefits to our city. It’s a vision we can accomplish if we’re all working together towards the same goal: one better Simpsonville for all.

“Are we moving in a direction that our children will be proud of?”

“Are we moving in a direction that our children will be proud of?”  According to former Davidson, NC Mayor Randall Kincaid, their city adopted a philosophy by which public officials asked this question before every decision.

It’s such a simple thing. And yet, it’s brilliant in its simplicity: “Are we moving in a direction that our children will be proud of?”

It’s brilliant because ultimately, that’s the job of city leaders: to create a future better than the present, to work steadily for continuous improvement, to create a city that our children will be proud to live, work, and play in years from now.

“Are we moving in a direction that our children will be proud of?”

It’s brilliant because it forces us to stop and consider the long-term goal or vision before making short-term decisions.

And above all else, that’s what we need to do on city council. We need a vision. And we need people committed to making it a reality. We need people willing to ask, “Are we moving in a direction that our children will be proud of?” at every turn.

I have a vision for Simpsonville that I think will make it, beyond a doubt, the kind of city our children and their children will be proud of.

We’re on our way. But to fully realize this vision of Simpsonville, I think we need to focus on a few key areas:

  1. Commit to community and cultural programs and services:
    • Provide access to the arts for all of our citizens,
    • Support programs that educate, inform, and inspire through a variety of cultural activities.
  2. This will lead to economic development…because community development is economic development.
    • Grow and retain current businesses (by keeping Simpsonville dollars in Simpsonville and bringing outside $ in),
    • Attract and support new businesses.
  3. But in order to do this, we need to work together. We need everybody on board. So we need to commit to creating unity and building partnerships.
    • Partner with individual citizens, local businesses, non-profit organizations, civic groups
    • Work together for a common goal, a shared vision

Then we can ask ourselves, “Are we moving in a direction our children can be proud of?” And answer ourselves with a resounding yes. Yes, we are moving in a direction our children will be proud of. Yes, we are creating a better Simpsonville for the future.

It’s time to get people on council who can do that. I think I’m just that kind of person.  And that’s why I’m asking for your vote on November 3rd.

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Response to Facebook Inquiry

I received the following comment on Facebook, and as I began to type out my response, I realized it wasn’t Facebook-sized, so I decided to include it here and just link it:

beth langely

I’ll give you the short answer here and invite you to come on out to Tea N Things on Monday evening for the meet the candidates event to talk about it some more. Hope to see you there!

  • “How do you plan on drawing business here?”

My vision for increasing economic development in Simpsonville relies on creating stronger partnerships between the city government, business owners, non-profit and community groups, etc. As Henry Ford once said, “If everyone is moving forward together, success takes care of itself.”  We need everyone in Simpsonville on board. I believe the mayor and council should provide the vision and leadership to make that happen. Further, I believe that community development is economic development. And I believe that it starts (and is successful) when the city government has a broad vision for community & economic development to guide its decisions. Every decision should be preceded by the question, “how does this (or does this not) help us accomplish our long-term goal?” When potential businesses see a community thriving, they are naturally attracted to it. When they know that the city will help support them in becoming established as part of that community, they are more inclined to join the community.  When they see everyone working together towards one shared goal: the betterment of the city, they know they will be successful, that we’ll all be successful, and are far more likely to choose Simpsonville as a place to start/open a business. When they see strong leaders with a clear vision, they want to be a part of that.

  • “How are you planning to pay for putting the arts in the old school building? Are you going to raise taxes or take money needed to fund other departments to pay for it?”

Bringing arts and culture to Simpsonville starts with a vision—a vision that the city government should share and commit to. From there, specific planning can begin. That planning will need to include multiple stakeholders. I will say again that creating stronger partnerships between the city government, business owners, non-profit and community groups, etc. is incredibly important to achieving this vision. Establishing an Arts Center is a long-term goal. It won’t happen overnight. But it won’t happen at all if we do not have leaders committed to a vision that includes one. It will also not be something I alone do—it will be a team effort, and all good teams start with a shared goal. On raising taxes: We just had a tax increase. We need to avoid increasing taxes again. We also need to ensure that we maintain the first rate services we’ve come to expect in Simpsonville. These same services that make it enjoyable for us to live here also attract new residents and businesses. That’s good for the city. And we certainly can’t cut necessary services to fund an Arts Center; that would be irresponsible.  I will say on a related note that I would like to see our departments adopt a zero-based budgeting (ZBB) model. In my experience (I have had to do this in my role as a department head in the public sector), ZBB creates a more efficient allocation of resources. This can help us “trim the fat” (if there is any), so that we can maintain those services without increasing taxes (this is true whether there’s an Arts Center or not).  We need to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

Again, I hope to see you at the Meet the Candidates event on Monday evening! Click here to register.