It’s not that there’s no money out there with which to build the new Washington County Johnson City Animal Shelter, it’s really a matter of having something to sell.
That is the crux of the situation and the summation of Tuesday’s Animal Control Board meeting. Since January, the body has secured an architect to design the $500,000, 6.6-acre property at 3411 N. Roan St. But it has failed to procure renderings and plans to shop it around.
It has optimistically pronounced the likelihood of major donors only to see those amounts fade. It still has not formed a fully functional fundraising committee, nor does it have in place someone to head a capital campaign.
The board has about $166,000 on hand for construction of an estimated $1.2 million needed to construct the new shelter’s “footprint,” and $100,000 of that is the result of a partial payment by Washington County. That and another $250,000 from the county comes with a stipulation: that should the animal board not have the new facility up and running 24 months after a construction bid is OK’d, the county can ask for its money back.
At last month’s meeting, board members were informed that Johnson City’s Thomas Weems Architects, which has been awarded an $87,500 contract to design the facility, would be getting to work on a colorful rough draft which can be used as the search for donors continue. Finalized renderings were expected to be ready in 60-90 days at that point.
“The architect doesn’t have a clue what he’s supposed to do,” said City Manager and ACB Chair Pete Peterson. “He doesn’t feel he’s gotten enough details to proceed. He’s wanting better direction on how we want to proceed with this.”
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that Johnson City native and retired Atlanta businessman Jim Reel is chomping at the bit to lead the drive. Reel has pledged $50,000 toward a spay and neuter clinic at the new shelter, and officials are looking through the fine print to make sure the Humane Society board member can head the campaign.
“I need renderings,” Reel said, slapping his hand down on the table. “I can’t sell a pig in a poke! I feel I can raise a million. I can’t go after small stuff.”
Meanwhile, Roadrunner Markets will be handing over $10,000 it collected by donating 3 cents for every gallon of gas sold in August. City Commissioner and ACB member Ralph Van Brocklin pledged $25,000 toward the shelter many months ago.
However, this money is not being counted as money in the bank at this point.
“If we don’t have cash in hand, we can’t start a project,” Peterson said.
That said, Van Brocklin distributed information on three professional capital campaign organizations, and the board is tentatively planning to meet next week with all three.
“I’ve had a huge problem getting meetings organized,” he said. “But the firm in Asheville — I think we should take very seriously. I have not been able to get with them yet.”
The other firms include a company from Phoenix and Indiana-based Dickerson Bakker & Associates, with whom the board was very close to hiring for about $16,000 in April to do a feasibility study on whether the $1.2 million could be raised.
Johnson City’s $350,000 donation plus $150,000 from ABC savings covered the cost of the new site.
When the Washington County-Johnson City Animal Control Board met in April, members announced that there already existed about $2.8 million in pledged donations with which to build the new shelter.
A capital campaign to raise money for construction was only in its formative stages at the time, and no one was scratching these pledges onto the official ledger or making any guarantees. Still, there existed a strong sense of confidence that some big things were about to happen.
But reports of what was thought to be forthcoming donations, along with Public Works Director Phil Pindzola’s suggestion that if board members felt the money was within their reach that they need not hire a professional company, the board struck out on its own.
However, the sense of both mood and direction changed at the mid-August meeting.
Animal Shelter Director Debbie Dobbs announced at that meeting the donations could not be confirmed; that City Commissioner and fundraising chairwoman Jane Myron had recently resigned; and that Board Chairman Rick Gordon stepped down at the end of July.
Van Brocklin told the group the fundraising effort had been haphazard and that the board was coming across “poorly.” That’s when Peterson took a seat at the head of the table and board members agreed they needed to scurry down a revised fundraising path.