Tuesday, October 26, 2021

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Civic Skinny

Social Club woes, a ‘gripping noir-ish thriller’ and Radar Heights


Editor’s Note: Michael Gartner was out this month, so the rest of us scrubs pulled together the following.

The Des Moines Social Club is “in financial hot water” and “looking to reorganize,” according to recent headlines. A nonprofit’s non-profitability isn’t ordinarily news, but the downtown entertainment venue is bankrolled largely by public grants, charitable giving and tax dollars.

According to a media statement from the club’s board, “The current funding model has not sustained the Club’s efforts. Even though 2018 saw respectable increases in revenues, the Club finds increasing operating costs continuing to outpace income.” The statement also says that the club maintains its commitment to its mission and is “reaching out to key community partners to help the Club set a more sustainable course for the future.”

According to its IRS 990 forms, the organization reported losses of net income amounting to $395,329 in fiscal year 2017 and another $255,136 for 2016. That is a two-year loss of $650,465.

Upon its move to the city’s former firehouse in 2014, the Social Club was touted as something that could propel Des Moines into the nation’s cultural elite. It earned headlines in national publications, and in an open letter to Des Moines residents, the Social Club told the city, “The Des Moines Social Club belongs to everyone and is for everyone” and “You’ve gotta see it to fully understand the significance this is going to have on the community.”

Prep Iowa

Operating out of a 30,000-square-foot space with two connected buildings and multiple floors, the Social Club’s mission is to support the local arts, education and entertainment. It houses a theater, an art gallery, a restaurant, a coffee shop and a bar, among other things.

The Social Club board’s recent statement, coupled with a balance sheet mired in red ink, leaves its future uncertain. The organization didn’t return messages after multiple attempts by CITYVIEW to speak with their representatives via phone and email prior to our press deadline, but its blog states: “We are facing financial difficulty. We are working with key community partners to help the Club set a more sustainable course for the future.” The blog also lists several ways to help, including joining “the swell of community support started by Charles Hoffman-Zinnel on Facebook” with a link to a page that states, “Let’s fight to keep this amazing non-profit open. Donate if you can, share with everyone you know. Let’s make this fundraiser go viral and help grow the arts in Des Moines.”

Eyebrows were raised in 2015 as the Social Club’s founder and executive director, Zachary Mannheimer, resigned just one year after its grand opening at the renovated fire station. At the time, the Social Club appeared to be thriving. In a press release after Mannheimer’s resignation that announced Pete De Kock as the new executive director, Fred Hubbell, a major DMSC supporter and 2018 Iowa gubernatorial candidate, was quoted as saying: “What Zack has accomplished during his time as Executive Director of Des Moines Social Club is absolutely amazing. Pete, as the new Executive Director, provides the leadership that will allow the organization to thrive and remain vital for years to come.”

A review of the Social Club’s tax filings reveals a note on its 2016 forms stating that “the previous executive director is a shareholder in the Sideshow Lounge LLC which owed the Des Moines Social Club $41,859 as of December 31, 2015.” The note also states that the board decided during 2016 to write this balance off.

Forty grand is not chump change, but it doesn’t appear to be the sole reason for the Social Club’s current problems. IRS filings show that fundraising dropped from $818,325 of contributions in 2015 to $498,618 in 2017. Program service revenue dipped from $659,815 to $434,302 during that same span. Meanwhile, rental income losses increased, as did salaries and other compensation and employee benefits. A one-time historic tax credit payment of $1.2 million also came off the books. …

CITYVIEW alum, John Domini, the former writer of the Center Stage column, has published a novel that is winning praise from big-time book critics. Domini’s novel, “The Color Inside A Melon,” is “a gripping noir-ish thriller written in prose somehow both elegant and hard-boiled. An absorbing read,” according to Salman Rushdie, winner of the Booker Prize and other awards. Other endorsements include one from Marlon James, also a Booker winner, who writes: “ ‘The Color Inside A Melon’ is about a man consumed by secrets and lies in a city on the edge… It twists, turns, then coils into a scorpion’s sting.” The Washington Post’s esteemed critic Mark Athitakis called the novel “sagely genre-tweaking,” “spry” and “especially well-turned.” Kirkus Reviews called it “brisk,” “intriguing” and “written in lively and often elegant prose.” The publication date for “The Color Inside A Melon” was June 11. Domini will attend local events at Beaverdale Books, Prairie Lights and elsewhere. Rushdie and Athitakis are elite reviewers by any objective measure. …

Some central Iowans have been griping about Windsor Heights for at least a generation. The notorious speed trap along University Avenue, known by some as “Radar Heights,” took its game up a notch a few years ago with speed cameras ticketing cars that were clocked going 11 mph or more in excess of the 25 mph speed limit. The practice created some hard feelings toward the city of about 5,000 people. The Windsor Heights City Council recently moved to slow the onslaught of tickets and the subsequent river of cash the cameras bring to the municipality. Some reports estimated the speed camera revenue would have been $1.47 million for fiscal year 2018-19. The hope is that raising the speed limit from 25 mph to 30 mph along University Avenue will help rebuild the town’s reputation and increase traffic to its shops and small businesses. …

And, yes, even more news from Windsor Heights. Baru66, a contemporary French bistro located at 6587 University Ave., served its last meal at that location on June 29. Chef David Baruthio says they plan to relocate. ♦

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