JWG (jwg) wrote,

Contra dancing and the VFW hall in Cambridge

At last I get to combine participating in Cambridge politics and contra dance issues.

For the past 23 years there has been a contra dance every thursday night in the VFW on Huron avenue in Cambridge. This is a big dance with 200-300 people and many visitors from out of town. There is also a Wednesday night Tango and a Friday night Swing dance in this space.

This summer it was revealed that the city was going to purchase the building from the VFW, and turn it into a Teen Center. The plan was to turn the dance hall into classrooms, computer rooms etc., build a gym in back elevated over the parking lot, and renovate the bottom floor and lease it back to the VFW. The dancers discovered this and have not been successful in finding a suitable replacement space so they began to lobby to change the plans. An architect suggested building an extra story on the gym building to accommodate the rest of the teen center needs and thus preserve the dance space. It looks like the revenue from the dance groups is approximately enough to pay for the debt service to cover the costs of the extra space.

I just recently got involved in this. We have been stressing that including a dance hall is not just for the dancers but it would allow the teen center to have a broader program that isn't just computers and gym. If they preserve the kitchen too then there could be dance, cooking, informal theatre, and music. And the city would have a nice space for other purposes.

There was a Public Arts and Celebrations committee of the Council meeting two weeks ago. At this meeting the dancers presented their alternative plan, several councillors expressed support for this plan, lots of dancers testified (including me), the city manager and deputy city manager gave some negative comments about cost, delays, and possible messing of the deal with the VWF which hasn't been completed. One of the councillors (Galluccio, the chief pusher on getting this teen center built) raised the issue of whether the city could just lease the space to these dance groups without open bidding and also if long term leases were even OK. A rep from the VFW said that as long as their portion of the facility was there they were perfectly happy to have the dancers and the teen center coexist. The committee suggested an order to the city manager to properly investigate this. This committee report was on last night's Council agenda.

I went to a planning/strategy meeting on Saturday where we worked out who was going to speak and what other actions were going to be taken. I talked to several councillors before the meeting and will be meeting with the deputy city manager soon because he is the key to getting a reasonable plan that the council will accept. At the Council meeting last night the order was passed with an amendment to checking into the leasing issue.

It is hard to guess how this will really turn out, but I think it will be given a fair shake by the reluctant City Manager's office because of the support by the councillors and the strong dance community influence.

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