A bridge too far
And we thought redevelopment agencies were about financing capital projects land, sidewalks, parking structures, big office buildings, basketball arenas. We didn't know that they also can bail out public radio stations.
You read right. The Salt Lake City Council, acting as the RDA board, has voted a $250,000 loan to radio station KCPW. That came after the RDA's independent loan committee had recommended unanimously that the agency not go there.
The City Council is enamored of KCPW, so much so that it voted to bail the station out of a financial jam. The radio station was up against a $250,000 debt payment on Oct. 31 that it could not meet, despite an all-out fund drive. So the council rode to the rescue, granting a $250,000 bridge loan for six months at 5 percent interest. The station hopes to repay the city with proceeds from its ongoing fund drive. The city may forgive the interest in exchange for on-air spots promoting the city.
The current owners took on $1.8 million in debt when they bought the station in 2008.
We don't doubt that the station is an asset to the community. But the market has another longtime National Public Radio affiliate, KUER, which probably competes for the same donated funding base. There's no doubt that the advent of KCPW pushed KUER to shake up its previously tired format and become a better, nimbler station. But does the community need two NPR affiliates?
More to the point, should the City Council be making that decision by bailing out KCPW with RDA financing?
No, it shouldn't.
The station already has a cozy relationship with the city. Its studio is located in the Main Library, which it rents for $1,200 a month. Not bad for 3,000 square feet. It also pays $1,000 a year for space for its satellite dish on Library Square.
Station chief Ed Sweeney says that KCPW has beefed up its news coverage of late, including its commitment to news of City Hall. That's all good, but it is fair to ask whether the station can fairly cover the City Council to which it owes its financial survival. That said, no news organization is free of potential entanglements with its financial benefactors.
Regardless of KCPW's value to the community, the City Council has strayed far from the purpose of capital redevelopment. RDAs are supposed to use tax-increment financing to invest in building the tax base, not rescue public radio stations.