AURORA, Colo. — An Aurora man is working to get an initiative on the November ballot calling for the removal of the city from the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD).
Jeff Brown announced on Tuesday that he has created a non-profit organization called Venues Aurora and released ballot language that would detach the city from SCFD.
In an interview, Brown told Denver7 that he believes Aurora has outgrown the district and it’s time for the city to create its own with a focus on promoting the art scene.
The SCFD was created in 1988 by voters and is funded by a .1% sales tax. The revenue generated then goes to support 320 different arts, cultural and science organizations across the Denver Metro Area. In 2020, it distributed $63 million across the seven participating counties.
The SCFD breaks down its funding by tiers. In tier one: the Denver Art Museum, Denver Botanical Gardens, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Denver Museum of Nature and Science and Denver Zoo.
Together, these five entities receive the most support from the SCFD. A 2016 report found that the five Denver-based entities were given roughly $36 million altogether. Tier two grantees include dozens of other cultural entities including the City of Aurora Cultural Services Division, which was allocated $291,129.
Tier three grantees are given the least amount of money based on their size and include hundreds of other organizations like the Aurora Symphony Orchestra (given $21,525) and Aurora singers (given $7,103), according to the 2016 report.
“It’s important to fund culture and the arts but it’s important to do it fairly. I have no argument with the overall purpose; it really comes down to the manner in which funds are being diverted away from Aurora, frankly,” Brown said.
He contends that for too long Aurora has been contributing more than it has been getting back as a member of the district.
“We’re paying $7.1 million (annually) and we’re only getting back less than $700,000 to entities in Aurora,” Brown said. “Consider what would’ve happened if that .1% sales tax would’ve been put into entertainment cultural amenities in Aurora. We would have a far different picture today than what we have today.”
The ballot proposal calls for Aurora to establish it’s own cultural facilities district over a period of three years and establish an 11-member board to run the district.
The board would be appointed by the Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas county commissioners. The proposal does not call for taxes to be raised but for Aurora’s taxes to be diverted back to the city itself.
The proposal also calls for 20% of the tax collected by the new district to fund cultural organizations such as the Aurora Fox Arts Center while the other 80% would be used to construct new cultural facilities in the city, including a 10,000-seat performing arts center.
In order to get the proposal on the ballot, Brown says he intends on collecting 4,000 signatures and then deliver them to Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties in order to get the question on the county ballot rather than a municipal ballot. For that, he says he would need to collect 12,000 signatures.
However, in a statement to Denver7, the executive director of the SCFD, Deborah Jordy, said for 30 years voters have overwhelmingly approved of the creation and continuation of the district. The most recent vote was in 2016, which ensured its continuation for another 12 years.
“While we understand the hope for greater entertainment options in Aurora, the voters approved the continuation of the SCFD and their will cannot be changed by the vote of one city. We’d urge Mr. Brown to find other ways to legally pursue his worthy goal,” the statement read.
SCFD pointed out that in 2020, 44% of the Aurora population visited a Tier I organization, or roughly 169,000 people.
Meanwhile in 2021, the Denver Center for Performing Arts is projected to sell 60,000 tickets to Van Gogh Alive in Aurora. SCFD says this highlights how intertwined the areas are and the need for a regional approach.
“The district was never intended to build buildings or invest taxpayer dollars in economic development for a single city,” the SCFD statement read.
Meanwhile, the city of Aurora sent Denver7 a statement saying it is always looking for opportunities to enrich the city’s cultural and arts scene and that the mayor and city council have yet to discuss this proposal so they cannot take a position on it.
For now, Brown says he’s going to move forward with the proposal and work on collecting signatures to get it on the ballot.
“We have to let go of the legacy and think about the future,” Brown said. “We have the space, we have the views, we don’t have the political will yet.”