Biz Kid$ drops out

Neighborhood pressure prompts company's decision

Biz Kid$, a nonprofit production company slated to rent part of the Queen Anne Community Center for $75,000 a year, has pulled out under community pressure.
"It's too bad, it really is," said Jamie Hammond, Biz Kid$ executive producer. She said she had been in discussions with Seattle Parks since June about using the community center for productions. But the potential partnership hadn't been unveiled until two weeks ago when Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced his 2010-2011 budget proposal. That's when the chicken feathers in the community started flying.
"A television studio taking over a community gymnasium is just tragic. It really strikes a nerve with me and I'm sure with other families who are trying to balance screen time with more physical and intellectual activities," said Queen Anne resident, Lisa Beard. "The mayor is sending a terrible message."
From that point on neighbors sat in on Seattle City Council hearings on the budget, formed a Facebook page to drum support of eliminating the proposed changes, and the Queen Anne Community Council spoke out against it, which gave Hammond a clear indication of what she would be facing if she didn't call off the partnership.
"We don't want to be a part of any controversy," Hammond said.
The $75,000 in annual rent had been built into McGinn's budget, and just this past Thursday, Christopher Williams, acting superintendent of Seattle Parks, had sent out a letter espousing Parks' reasoning behind the partnership with Biz Kid$, why it was a good idea and how it would fit in with the community of Queen Anne. Now that Hammond has called it off, Seattle Parks will have to reassess the future of the community center. There is no Plan B.
"It took a long time to work the partnership out," said Parks spokesperson, Joelle Hammerstad. "It's not like we have another Biz Kid$ in our back pocket."
She said Parks now has $75,000 less to work with and one possible implication is further reductions in staff hours.
Hammond is open to working with Parks in finding an alternative location, but time is of the essence. Her production company needs to begin developing shows in November and then deliver them to public broadcasting stations around the country.
"If they can come up with something pretty quickly, we might be able to do that," Hammond said. "But we're on a time crunch."
Biz Kid$ has been on the air at most of the PBS stations across the country since January 2008. It makes live-action shows teaching financial literacy to children. Biz Kid$ gets most of its funding from the Coalition of Americas Credit Unions - of which Boeing Employees Credit Union, for example, is a member.
Beard, while sympathetic to the city's budget crisis, doesn't understand why it pointed Biz Kid$ to a community center when there are other, vacant, city-owned buildings available.
"There's the Seattle Center which has empty rooms on the third and fourth floor," Beard said. "I understand the city is going through a rough time and needs the revenue, but not in our gym."
Parks will not look for another tenant to fill Biz Kid$' vacancy. Hammerstad said the controversy has been frustrating for every concerned party and questions the vibrancy of the center's future.
"We've been cutting for the past two years and we have no more choices," Hammerstad said. "Biz Kid$' pulling out doesn't mean there will be more time available at the community center. It means the exact opposite."

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