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Board vote likely to bring down curtain for NYSTI

Board vote likely to bring down curtain for NYSTI

Supporters failed to save the New York State Theatre Institute during a contentious board of directo

Supporters failed to save the New York State Theatre Institute during a contentious board of directors meeting Wednesday in the Capitol.

The institute’s board voted 5-0 to transfer ownership of NYSTI’s assets to the state Office of General Services, effective Dec. 31. NYSTI will run out of money at the end of the year and lay off 15 employees then. It has no plans to offer theatrical programming in 2011.

The board’s resolution puts NYSTI’s assets — two buildings in Troy at 37 First St. and 136 Second St. — in escrow until the state Legislature takes action to amend the law and dissolve the public benefit corporation.

NYSTI Acting Director David Bunce tried to get the board to approve a resolution that would have allowed the institute to borrow money against the assets, based on a line of credit from First Niagara Bank. The board rejected the resolution, saying the institute’s lack of funding would put the assets at risk of foreclosure.

The $350,000 line of credit would have allowed NYSTI to remain open until March 31, when Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo puts together an executive budget for 2011-2012. Supporters had hoped by then to convince Cuomo to fund NYSTI, which formerly received $3 million a year from the state.

However, NYSTI board Chairman Lawrence S. Schwartz said Cuomo was unlikely to fund NYSTI in light of the state’s ongoing budget problems. The state is facing a $10 billion budget deficit.

Gov. David Paterson cut NYSTI’s funding in half, to $1.5 million, in his 2010-11 budget. He said NYSTI should merge with The Egg as a way for the state to save money in a tight fiscal year.

Bunce said he plans to continue lobbying Cuomo and the Legislature next year to re-fund NYSTI. He said the board’s action gives him some hope of saving NYSTI. “They could have passed a resolution to dissolve all the assets. By putting them in escrow, they are protecting NYSTI’s assets with the possibility that NYSTI will be refunded,” he said.

“I can’t call it good news, but certainly it is better to have them protected than sold off.”

The board’s action Wednesday ends a saga that began two years ago, with Paterson’s decision to defund NYSTI, and escalated after state Inspector General Joseph Fisch issued a report highly critical of the agency in April. Fisch’s report said the institute’s former board exercised lax control over the hiring and spending practices of longtime Producing Artistic Director Patricia Snyder. Fisch said Snyder misspent and misappropriated more than $1 million and violated nepotism laws. She retired from NYSTI on May 7.

The inspector general forwarded his report to the state Attorney General’s Office for review. The Attorney General’s Office said it does not comment on potential legal cases.

Paterson replaced the board with members of his inner staff shortly after Fisch’s report, and the new board has not aided Bunce in his efforts to keep NYSTI operational.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Bunce “admonished” Paterson and his administration for their “short-sighted, apparently targeted attack on NYSTI.”

Bunce called NYSTI’s cuts disproportionate to those placed on other state agencies and said closing NYSTI will have a wide-ranging economic impact.

“Closing NYSTI will eliminate $4 million a year in economic development to the city of Troy. It will eliminate a proposed $1 million a year in generated NYSTI revenue. And it will eliminate $500,000 a year in in-kind contribution from Russell Sage College. And all to save the state $1.5 million,” Bunce said.

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