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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

Newly hired vice president of operations Ellery Brown – who is a 25-year veteran of performing arts centers from California – doesn't elaborate when pressed, except to say that things are still flexible.

"We have planned rental subsidies for the resident organizations as they transition into the new spaces, so the way the pro-forma works is there are proposed rental rates that would be part of the designated spaces," he says. "We are currently thinking about how much we would allocate to help with the transition." The latest operating pro-forma submitted to the city suggests only a 5 percent subsidy for arts groups using the Disney Theater.

None of this is going to help Ron Legler and the Florida Theatrical Association. After spending four months and $100,000 on a bid to present at the new performing arts center, the group was briskly denied. DPAC confirms that FTA was the only respondent to their request for proposals specifically related to Broadway presentations, but adds that it reserved the right to refuse any bid and, even so, FTA did not include financial audits that DPAC requested. That's an unnecessary formality, Legler says.

"Our company has never accepted any donations: any state money, any federal money, any local money," he says. "We leave that for the ballet and the philharmonic and the people that are local here. We have a tax auditor that prepares our 1099. We go through every rigorous thing that you need for a nonprofit. We don't feel the need to go through and audit for $15,000 a year, because we don't accept any donations."

In building its case for the contract, FTA pointed out that it successfully entertained an average of 420,000 theatergoers a year, maintained a strong subscription base (8,500 season-ticket holders) and was a good community steward, awarding more than $1.5 million in local scholarships. Along with extensive financial statements are recommendations for a 50 percent profit-share model with DPAC and several options for an annual presenting plan that could net DPAC between $1.5 million and $2 million over the period. That would apparently not be enough. DPAC's board had a "retreat" and decided to deny the bid, DPAC says in an email.

But DPAC's own operating pro-forma, the most recent of which was submitted to the city on Nov. 12, illuminates some curiosities of its own, says Legler. The group is projecting a 12-week Broadway season, instead of the standard eight-week run. DPAC doesn't consider the possibility of competition, something that is likely considering FTA's insistence on remaining in the market. There are no projected losses. DPAC will pay itself a rental fee. Moreover, DPAC is relying on projections that 70 percent of its revenues will come from a Broadway series to which it has no subscribers. Though the DPAC board continues to publicly insist that the building alone will be draw enough, Legler disagrees.

"When you go to a movie theater, you don't really consider that the movie theater is brand-new or not," he says. "I don't just go to the movie theater because it's beautiful and pick out the movie I want to see. The Broadway industry is not built on buildings. The Broadway industry is built on product."

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