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Bond plan would save Great Neck Art Center

Ballet Instructor Nichole Piacenza teaches at the Great

Ballet Instructor Nichole Piacenza teaches at the Great Neck Arts Center. (Oct. 18, 2012) Credit: Barry Sloan

The nonprofit Great Neck Arts Center would give up ownership of its residence and change its name in exchange for financial help from a quasi-governmental agency of the Town of North Hempstead under a proposal by the town supervisor.

Under Supervisor Jon Kaiman's plan, the Business and Tourism Development Corporation, the town's local development corporation, would take out a $3 million bond and use about $800,000 to pay off the center's existing mortgage and debt. The remaining $2.2 million would be put in a special account, which the center would use to pay the debt service on the bond. About a decade later, depending on the life of the bond, the center would then be responsible for paying the debt service itself.

In exchange, the BTDC would take ownership of the center's Middle Neck Road space, which a town appraisal found to be worth $3.3 million. The space would then be used by the town to generate revenue through rentals and other means, and the town would perform maintenance on the space.

The Great Neck Arts Center would also change its name to the Gold Coast Arts Center, to reflect a larger townwide focus, Kaiman said.

"An arts center, when thriving, will be an economic engine for the community," Kaiman said. "That's worth being creative and coming up with some solutions in and of itself."

Regina Gil, executive director and founder of the Great Neck Arts Center, said she and other board members became seriously concerned about the future of the nearly 20-year-old nonprofit about a year ago.

"It was almost like the perfect storm of terrible things," Gil said. "Prices went up, insurance rates went up, the economy came to a standstill."

Gil said she contemplated selling the nonprofit's real estate but she said the group wouldn't be able to afford renting the 10,000 square feet of space it needs and would have to severely cut its programs, which include dance, music, theater, visual arts and outreach to public schools.

The group also runs the Gold Coast International Film Festival, now in its second year.

"We were in danger of forfeiting on our mortgage," Gil said.

But Ralph Heiman, the center's treasurer and executive vice-president, said he felt that the center's financial straits have "been overexaggerated."

"There was no concern of default at any point in time," Heiman said. "The concern was about where the arts center was going in the future. And for the purposes of maintaining longevity, we needed additional support."

He said the mortgage and additional debt totaled about $700,000, and payments on the debt totaled about 15 percent of the group's annual budget.

Kaiman plans to announce the proposal at the center's gala at Oheka Castle in Huntington Wednesday night. The plan would take effect next year.

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