For the past six months, a decision has been hanging over the heads of Madison Common Council members -- whether to take ownership of the Overture Center for $1 as part of a plan to resolve its $29 million debt and restructure management, or risk letting the center "go dark."
In recent weeks, that decision has gotten even more complicated, as alternative plans were floated and people weighed in from all sides.
The reckoning was supposed to happen Tuesday night, when the council would dig into the details and decide once and for all which was the best plan. But in the end the council, paralyzed by uncertainty and without a clear consensus, put off voting on a plan in the early morning hours Wednesday. The meeting ended around 4 a.m.
Instead, it agreed to have representatives sit down with Overture's fundraising arm, 201 State Foundation, donors and the banks to try to hash out an arrangement that would satisfy as many concerns as possible by the Dec. 31 deadline.
"We have four different models and 21 amendments to one of those models," said Ald. Julia Kerr. "How are we ever going to make this decision at 1 in the morning? This is not accountability."
Others wanted to press on. "We have to keep doing our job," said Ald. Bridget Maniaci. "Everybody knew it would be a late night."
During the council deliberations, the option that seemed to have most support -- creating a public authority to manage Overture -- is also the one that the 201 State Foundation doesn't support and might require legislative action.
Mary Berryman Agard, a consultant working on the city's cultural plan, said the council was in uncharted territory. "Whether you act tonight or not, there is no way to escape the fact that you will continue to be in a period of experimentation."
She also said the Overture Center is too big to belong to any one group. "Everybody is scared to own the thing. Well, everybody needs to take it."
But several council members spoke of a breakdown of trust among players that makes moving ahead difficult.
Council President Mark Clear, in an attempt to rouse his colleagues to act, said that if the council didn't resolve the matter before the sun came up, "the take-away message will be we failed."
That angered Ald. Chris Schmidt: "All of us here have been burning ourselves out doing everything we can to come up with a solution. We've had a series of plans for this thing that failed. We had a refinancing that failed. The other side can give us more time or let it go dark."