You paid for it, so where is it?

November 25, 2009 9:22:26 PM PST
Some Houston city council members say it's time to take a close look at the millions set aside for city art that have not been used. 13 Undercover is on a hunt for a half a million dollar piece of art.

Want to give thanks for the city's drinking water? Aw come on. The city of Houston has been bragging for years it was going to have just the place to learn about water.

"Something is definitely wrong out there," said Houston Councilmember Mike Sullivan. "There's no doubt about it."

We saw a picture of tourists outside the entrance, and a sculpture there. It's one of the most expensive city art projects promised this year -- a huge bouquet of seven overflowing bathtubs working 24 hours a day.

City hall liked the tubs so much, it was willing to spend $500,000 of your money on the museum art piece. It's the color of money.

But the picture of tourists isn't real. When we went to see the bathtubs, they weren't there.

"Things change," said Alvin Wright with the city's public works department. "We laid plans out on paper and those plans change."

In September, the Houston Arts Alliance told the famous artist to "halt work on Tubbs."

"Having publicly-funded art in an area that was not going to have accessibility to all of the public didn't make sense to us," said Wright.

To get to the northeast water plant, you drive down a street lined with waist-deep weeds. Then you get stopped at a guard gate. The museum site is surrounded by a security fence.

But the city knew that when they paid the first installment for the art that's not coming there -- $79,000.

"Its wasteful to say the least," said Sullivan.

And that's the color of money.

"We make water. We treat waste water," said Wright. "We don't do art."

The museum is supposed to show students and tourists how we make water. The city even hired a museum curator three years ago.

Nearly $750,000 later, still no museum a year and half after it was supposed to open.

"Right now, we don't have money to finish this," we said to Wright.

"Right now, the funding is limited," he agreed.

There are signs of what it's supposed to look like, but display cases are empty, construction materials everywhere and the project is so old it was designed so the windows would show visitors the city's bottling plant.

You know when the city stopped bottling superior water? Two years ago The equipment has just been left there unused.

"It could be a boondoggle," said Sullivan. "It's certainly a project that wasn't planned very well."

A city ordinance mandates that a percent of every capital improvement project be set aside for art. You know how much money is sitting unused today? 10.4 million dollars.

"That's a lot of money," said Houston City Councilmember Melissa Noriega. "No question about it."

A lot of green, while the city is drowning in red ink.

"We're actually going to be laying people off after the first of the year," said Sullivan.

Add the budget of the Houston Arts Alliance? More than $12 million a year. Jonathan Glus, the city's art boss makes $154,000 a year.

"The Arts Alliance has just grown out of hand," said Sullivan. "It really has."

"I think it's time to rethink pretty much everything," agreed Noriega.

And that's the color of money. Millions of your dollars are involved and it's your money.

From the 13 Undercover unit, have a safe holiday.


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