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City performing arts center losses questioned

Information from City of Everett

A revenue and expense sheet for the Everett Performing Arts Center over the past nine years. (Click on spreadsheet to see larger version in new window.)

EVERETT — An arrangement with the Village Theatre that has the city paying more money than it gets back in revenue sparked an inquisition from Councilman Scott Murphy earlier this month.
The nonprofit theatre group manages the Everett Performing Arts Center as well as presents shows there.
However, for years, making the Everett Performing Arts Center a profitmaker was never the focus, according to people involved in the contract. Performing arts centers rarely are. Instead, it appears the space rental fees at the center on Wetmore Avenue were suppressed to attract a fuller calendar of shows that would convert to more tourism dollars downtown.
Anecdotally, shows bring more people to shop and eat downtown than usual.
Rents at the Everett Performing Arts Center return $90,000 a year on average, but the city’s contract with the Village Theatre to manage the whole space is a little over $300,000.  Combined with labor and facilities costs, annually the arrangement has made a annual $500,000 net loss for the city.
It was a rocky conversation when finances came up May 9 in what ordinarily would be a simple 7-0 council vote to extend the theatre’s management contract. The City Council tabled the vote.
The theatre’s management contract is up in August. A contract extension would give the city time to brainstorm how to address the losses. 
“We, too, have been looking at the data and asking the same questions” but felt one year to find solutions was necessary, said new parks department assistant director Kimberly Shelton.
The city’s economic development manager handled the contract before she retired. Now it is handled by the cultural arts department within parks and recreation.
Murphy clarified he doesn’t have an issue with Village Theatre, but said he was “stunned by the amount of the losses at the theater” at the May 9 meeting.
The city sets the rent rates and Village Theatre facilitates the shows. Village Theatre itself has told the city that rent fees can sustain an increase, the theatre’s executive director Robb Hunt said.
“I think they can be increased and we have suggested that, but because the focus was economic development, the city wanted to keep the rates low,” Hunt said in an interview.
Setting any target revenue objectives is to be decided. There weren’t any before, Hunt said.
He also said he has talked amicably with Murphy about the issue.
Show attendance figures are up, with 74,005 people in the seats for shows during the 2016-2017 season. Village Theatre currently has 7,366 subscribers for the 2017-2018 Everett season. It dipped from 7,700 last season, which Hunt attributes to the “Hamilton” effect — people put their money toward seeing that musical in Seattle versus buying season tickets here.
The theater’s season this year included “Newsies,” Pulitzer Prize winner “The Gin Game” and a new play, “String.” The seminal musical “Hairspray” — which transforms the 1988 film to stage — opens July 6.


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