Frisco resident files suit to recoup donation to Arts Center of North Texas
The future of the Arts Center of North Texas is still up in the air, but that hasn't stopped one Frisco resident from filing a lawsuit against the city of Frisco over its handling of the project.
Al Brewster filed suit in small claims court on Feb. 5 arguing the Frisco City Council's refusal to allow the Arts Center to move forward as a separate nonprofit organization resulted in a "direct financial loss" to residents who donated funds to the decade-old project.
In his suit, Brewster claims he entered into a contract with the Arts of Collin County, which the project was known as prior to 2011, when he made a $500 donation in 2009. He goes on to say that when the Frisco City Council voted to deny the creation of the separate nonprofit, which would have allowed the construction of the project as planned, his donation was lost since his contract with the ACC could not be carried out.
"I filed the suit to try and get closure to the issue of the way the City Council has departed from what the voters told them to do," Brewster said. "I think the City Council has been shortsighted. ... I believe you have to look to the future. For an 83-year-old man to feel that may be unusual, but that is the way I live my life."
Voters in Frisco revoked the city's authority to sell $16.4 million in bonds in May 2011. Less than a year later, the Arts Center board recommended spinning the project off into a separate nonprofit that lacked municipal involvement.
A separate proposal was made to dissolve the project, give the land back to the donor and split up any remaining assets among the owner cities. This proposal was approved by the Plano and Allen city councils in October 2012, but the Frisco City Council has yet to schedule a vote on the issue.
"I am disappointed in the level of judgment of the current council members," Brewster said. "I think they are living off the leadership and vision of previous councils that had the gumption to tell the voters that if we want to build a beautiful city here, we are going to have to issue some bonds that are going to be paid off by the people that move here."
In April 2012, the three owner cities hired the law firm Bourland, Wall & Wenzel to look into which donations were restricted and needed to be returned to their donors. The firm's final report has not been made public, but a February 2012 email from then-acting executive director Mary Vail-Grube mentioned a $750,000 donation from the AT&T Foundation, a $100,000 donation from Kenneth Sellers and a $90,000 donation from Robbie Robinson were potentially restricted.
In his suit, Brewster is seeking the return of his non-restricted donation. If Brewster is successful, other non-restricted donors could also seek the return of their donations. The cities, however, would likely not be able to return all funds back to their donors since they have only $2.4 million on hand, and the project has received $9.6 million in cash donations and pledges, according to an itemized list of donors dated March 2011.
Richard Abernathy, the attorney for the city of Frisco, said he is not sure why Frisco was sued since the city does not have Brewster's donation, and does not control the Arts Center's finances. He said he could not make any additional comments until he spoke with Frisco officials.
The center's attorneys have spent the last several months researching the donation agreements at the request of the city of Frisco, said Bobby Baggett, president of the center's board of directors.
"It has been a very complex and time-consuming process," Baggett said via email. "I understand that the research is about concluded, so we should be meeting as a board in the next few weeks to hear what they have to report and begin reviewing the options and implications. It has indeed been a slower process than I had hoped, but the Arts Center's board is doing its best to accommodate the requests of the owner cities while ensuring the integrity of the process and maintaining our fiduciary duty to the stakeholders and donors of the organization."
The Arts Center of North Texas is a proposed three-city project co-owned by Plano, Allen and Frisco. The first phase of the project would cost $66 million and include a 2,100-seat performing arts center located in Allen, near the intersection of Custer Road and State Highway 121. Future phases would include an additional theater, amphitheater and sculpture garden.