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Groundbreak Day

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

Photo: Rob Bartlett, License: N/A

Rob Bartlett

Marshall goes on to detail that DPAC has no cause for worry. "There is $822 million in philanthropic capacity from the top five wealthiest Central Florida zip codes alone," she writes. "So there is a strong wealth base in this community."

Perhaps, but according to United Arts of Central Florida, annual operational contributions to the area's major arts groups for fiscal year 2011 are only about $7.5 million. DPAC, according to Marshall, is now sitting on $92 million in contributions after five years, with $6 million earmarked for the acoustic hall. Mark Brewer, CEO and president of local nonprofit umbrella the Community Foundation, says that available wealth can be hard to quantify. He estimates that there is $4.6 billion annually in philanthropy available for the seven-county region, but the science of divining just what portion of that is realistic for such endeavors as the performing arts – just like economic impact predictions – is usually suspect.

"There's some wishing, praying and dreaming in there," he says. "There's the assumption that we understand a marketplace that doesn't exist right now."

It may not exist yet, but it's about to – whether it's sustainable or not. In 2005, the Orlando Sentinel issued a "Special Report" outlining the difficulties and triumphs of the performing arts center premise as seen through other markets, culminating in a quote from then-New Jersey Performing Arts Center President and CEO, Lawrence Goldman: "The thing that drives me crazy is people say, ‘If you build it, they will come.' If you build it and do a thousand other things, they will come."

Staring up the skirt of a headless ballerina – juxtaposed with the air-bound torso of a hip-hop dancer, ridiculously – on the invitation for this week's DPAC groundbreaking, you have to wonder just what the performing arts center can do in order to live up to its mutilated mission statement of local arts patronage. The following four performing arts center scenarios represent three possible outcomes and one unlikely victory. As other regional arts groups fold beneath the economic pressures of vanity venues nationwide, unfortunately, we won't know how Orlando compares until it's too late. In fact, it's already too late.

Hold onto your heads and enjoy the show.


Initially coined the Miami-Dade Performing Arts Center, Miami's preposterous-on-paper performance jewel was already a financial albatross in 2004 – three years after groundbreaking, two years before opening – largely because of construction-cost overruns and poor planning. In June 2004, the Miami Herald reported that the builder responsible for the project had already exhausted the "guaranteed maximum price" of $255 million for the project and was seeking an additional $47-$61 million to bring the majesty to light. Prior to that, the long-delayed project was estimated at a mere $75 million in 1988; it was eventually 
completed in 2006 at a cost of $473 million and opened as the Carnival Center.

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