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Groundbreak Day

Orlando breaks ground on its performing arts center. Now what?

Photo: Rob Bartlett, License: N/A

Rob Bartlett

And now, it's curtain time. This groundbreaking means one thing: There is no turning back.

But there is some shoring up. On the local front, though DPAC Board Chairman Jim Pugh vowed in front of the Orlando city council in May that he and his peers would be tirelessly working toward $68 million in fundraising to go toward the $102 million he estimated would be required to move forward with the center's acoustic hall, there may not be much of a local arts movement with which to populate it. It's already a struggle to keep an organization fed by discretionary income – be that from ticket sales or fundraising – afloat in a deep recession. Coupled with the philanthropic brass rooting for a financially viable performing arts center, which will require $2 million in annual fundraising to meet its proposed $12 million operations budget, the potential for failure is all too real.

"We are a strong and healthy organization both artistically and financially," says Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra Executive Director David Schillhammer. His orchestra was supposed to find a home in the new center just two years ago, but will now more than likely remain at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre (now slated to be programmed and scheduled by DPAC, as well). The Philharmonic has increased its subscriber base from 1,300 to 3,400 over the past four years, says Schillhammer. The group has a $3 million annual operating budget with a $3.7 million endowment, and the orchestra's most recent tax filings from 2009 show $4 million in revenue up from $2.7 million in 2008. Times may be good for the Philharmonic, but DPAC may not be – at least not in its immediate form. An amplified Broadway theater is of no use to a classical orchestra, Schillhammer told the Orlando Weekly last year; also it would require a larger per-seat rental rate than Bob Carr. Regardless, OPO will be providing a string quartet and a brass sextet for this week's groundbreaking, even if it's just to sustain the illusion.

Those who won't be there include the Orlando Opera, which closed its doors in April 2009 after filing for bankruptcy in its 51st year, and the 27-year-old Festival of Orchestras, which followed suit in March. Both were supposed to be resident DPAC companies. The Orlando Ballet, which saw a dip in its revenues from $4.1 million in 2008 to $3.8 million in 2009, is still in operation but appears shaky. In April, ballet Executive Director Juan Escalante stepped down from his post less than two years after taking the job; the company's board of directors declined to comment on that or the company's current finances for this story. Dancers from the ballet, naturally, will be spinning on their toes for the groundbreaking.

"The majority of our donors also support other local arts groups, as well as other causes locally," DPAC spokeswoman Treva Marshall – who also, interestingly, handles public relations for the ballet – says in an email. "For example, one of our major donors – who is also an executive board member – is also a supporter of the Philharmonic."

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