By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
So it came as something of a shock July 24 when the company suddenly announced it was closing immediately.
"Insurmountable financial difficulties" was the official word, and IBP employees, ex-employees and board members were tight-lipped about adding any details.
But everyone's favorite bogeyman is at least partly to blame: the Internal Revenue Service.
In reality, that's not true: The blame should go to IBP management, who somehow thought it was okay not to pay payroll taxes to Uncle Sam. Sam, it appears, thinks otherwise.
No one is talking for publication still, but people who know the situation confirm that an ongoing tussle with the IRS helped to trigger the seemingly out-of-the-blue announcement. (There are other rumors about finances, but no one's willing to go anywhere near confirming those.)
Actually, the signs of financial struggle had been there for a while: IBP had only two productions this year, less than half of a normal year; some staffers were laid off in January; and the onerous rent at the former Axiom club was always a worry.
IBP didn't really depend on ticket sales to make its six-figure budget each year, instead looking to grants and donations. The general financial squeeze in the art world made competition for those moneys more intense, but it was the tax problems that brought things to a head.
The company is expected to declare bankruptcy, and its key members hope to re-form as a completely unrelated entity.
But won't the private donors and arts organizations who gave them grants be a little pissed that the money was mismanaged?
"I think people know the artistic staff had nothing to do with any of this," one former IBPer said. "So if we started a new organization, I don't think it would be held against us."
Maybe. Free tax tip for the new organization: Hire an accountant.
Is That a
Howard Lang, a resident of the Morningside Place neighborhood near Rice, isn't too happy with the university.
They want to build a 238-bed housing facility for grad students on his street, and he doesn't think they're providing enough parking for it. Rice is trying to get a variance from the city to allow them not to meet mandated parking requirements.
"The units are for international students, and you're telling me that students who come to America and go to Rice can't afford automobiles? That belies reality," says Lang, an attorney.
Worse, to him, is the way he sees Rice going about trying to get support for the variance. Essentially it's the old mob threat: "We wouldn't want nuttin' bad to happen to your nice shiny neighborhood here."
Right now the proposed building on Shakespeare Street is four stories tall. But if neighborhood groups succeed in getting the parking variance denied, well, they may live to regret it, according to Rice.
Greg Marshall, senior director of university relations for Rice, wrote the president of the Morningside Place Civic Association an e-mail July 12 asking for support for the variance.
Not granting the variance, he wrote, might mean Rice would "ultimately end up with a much larger building (taller certainly, and perhaps also wider), which will result in more cars traversing already congested neighborhood streets."
And just because some Morningside Place folks oppose it and others (who don't live near it) don't care much is no reason not to get on Rice's side: "I'm afraid fence-sitting," Marshall wrote, "will be viewed as siding with those who oppose the variance and have negative impacts for both Rice and its neighbors."
We don't know if Marshall was speaking in a Don Corleone voice as he typed the e-mail. But he tells Hair Balls he was merely trying to emphasize the neighborhood's priority, which was keeping the building small.
Lang says the university's message is loud and clear: "You either go along with our project or we'll really do a job on you," he says.
We realized Rice knew how to play hardball, but we thought that was limited to its baseball team. Guess not.
It's What's for Dinner
For a couple of weeks now, the Montrose neighborhood near Rudyard's has sported signs asking about a lost goat. Karen Groves had her pet pygmy goat Twyla stolen July 14.
"My next-door neighbor has a furniture restoration shop, and they stole some things from him," she says. "And I guess they just saw her and jumped the fence and took her."
Twyla was about a year old; Groves has been bottle-feeding her since she was three weeks old.
Is raising a goat legal?
"There is a gray area," she says. "I'm sure if I was breeding her and I had multiple goats, then it may be considered livestock if somebody complained. But everyone in the neighborhood loves her. Everyone knows her: She rides in the car, she's been up to Rudyard's she would sit on the patio and eat a salad."