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Arts & Culture

DPAC's dramatic pause

Performing arts center's public rift with local theater producer calls its mission into question

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

"When all of this first started, they kept calling it a 100-year building," Legler says. "It's a 100-year mistake."

According to numbers provided by DPAC, the group has raised $94 million in donations to date. In 2009, due to the faltering economy, the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts was bifurcated into two stages. The first stage – the 2,700-seat Disney Theater, meant to present Broadway offerings and touring concerts, along with the 300-seat Jim & Alexis Pugh Community Theater – is set to clock in at $335 million (as of October 2012, nearly $263 million had already been spent). The city, according to DPAC, has so far contributed $190.1 million, largely from bond issuances; the county has given $53 million toward stage one, with an additional $86 million to come when stage two – which will include a $165 million, 1,700-seat multi-form theater suited for the Orlando Philharmonic and the Orlando Ballet – commences. The county's contributions hinge on its tourist-development tax revenues.

How the project will be paid for is heavily weighted toward "civic engagement," prompting a fair amount of public scrutiny. In 2011, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs publicly scoffed at a request from the city and DPAC for a $30 million bridge loan to keep the project going. She cited numerous flaws discovered in a county audit of the construction-bidding process and other operational concerns surrounding the project, including $1,000 car rentals for contractors, price markups, bad bidding processes and employee bonuses. "In summary, it appears at this time that this is a deeply flawed project from both a contractual and construction/design cost standpoint," Jacobs wrote in a letter to Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. "If the identified problems are not fixed and/or addressed now, the project cannot be built in all probability with any confidence that taxpayer money will be spent effectively and efficiently."

That "major problem," as Jacobs referred to it, was summarily addressed by the formation of an oversight committee, the Orlando Community Construction Corp., in March 2011 – it allowed representatives from Disney, the Orlando Magic and the county (among others) to shepherd the arts center through the process, and, to some degree, added an air of transparency to the DPAC board and staff's operating procedures.

But the keeping up of appearances – and relative silence – of DPAC since hasn't stopped the hemorrhaging on the financial side. A 2011 audit by accounting group Cross, Fernandez & Riley LLP shows a write-off of an uncollectable pledged donation of $7.5 million. And though DPAC initially agreed that it would have a $25 million endowment prior to opening, which is tentatively scheduled for fall of 2014, as of Dec. 31, 2011, the total endowment available was just $2.7 million, according to the audit. Somehow, DPAC still intends to bring its total donations up to $160 million by an unspecified date, according to a recent email, though some of the donations are tied to unspoken benchmarks from the donors. "The flow of the pledges depends on the details of the agreements made with each donor," DPAC spokeswoman Treva Marshall says in an email. About $6.5 million of the donations are tied to stage two of the development.

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