Friday, December 6, 2013
WESTBROOK – Rental revenue from the Westbrook Performing Arts Center more than covered the 2½-year-old theater's operating budget this year for the first time.
Voters approved the $4.1 million Westbrook Performing Arts Center as an add-on to the city’s new middle school.
Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer
Dancers with Unique Performance Arts Center in New Jersey assemble backstage last month before going on at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center. The venue made a small profit in the year ending June 30, though it wasn’t enough to cover utilities, an expense covered by the middle school budget.
Photos by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer
But considering that the center ended its first two years in debt, that the cost of utilities is in the Westbrook Middle School budget, and that taxpayers will be paying back the bond for its construction for the next 15 years, this year's $5,500 surplus doesn't exactly put it in the black.
Whether the Performing Arts Center should be making more money by now depends on whom you ask.
A business plan written in the fall of 2008 by consultant Christopher Mekal of Boston says the state-of-the-art 1,000-seat auditorium should have showed a $73,000 surplus in the fiscal year that ended June 30.
The plan predicted that the profit would double to more than $140,000 this year and maintain that margin thereafter.
Theater manager Jamie Grant is quick to point out that the plan was created "before the economy went in the toilet." Also, he said, holding 100 revenue-generating events per year, which the plan envisions, isn't realistic because of the inconvenience.
"School has to exist here," he said.
The $4.1 million, 15,000-square-foot auditorium was approved by voters in 2007 as a taxpayer-funded add-on to the planned $29 million middle school, 90 percent of which was funded by the state.
John O'Hara, co-chair of the building committee for the project, said building the auditorium was seen as an opportunity to "get the most for the least" by folding it into the construction of the high-efficiency, state-funded middle school, complete with a geothermal heating and cooling system.
He said the purpose has always been primarily to have "a first-class venue" for city and school events and, secondly, to offer "first-rate acts" to residents of Westbrook and surrounding towns.
In that respect, O'Hara said, "the community has gotten everything that we've told them they would and more."
He acknowledges, however, that he expected it to be making more money by now. He cites the economy for the lack of revenue.
The gap between the Performing Arts Center's expenses and revenue is closing.
The first event in the auditorium -- a day of a cappella workshops and performances for teenage boys -- was held in February 2010. By the end of the fiscal year that June, the center had hosted 35 events, four of which paid rent, bringing in about $24,000.
Expenses including Grant's salary and benefits, marketing and advertising, lighting and tech supplies and travel totaled about $58,000.
In fiscal 2010-11, there were 63 events, 15 of which paid rent, generating $59,000 in revenue -- about $23,000 less than expenses.
And, in the past year, there were 95 events, 35 of which paid rent, bringing in just over $93,000 -- about $5,500 over budget.
Superintendent Marc Gousse said the School Committee has not decided what it will do with the surplus revenue. It could go back to the Performing Arts Center or be used to offset expenses for the middle school.
Although the revenue for the past fiscal year exceeded the center's operating costs, other expenses associated with the Performing Arts Center aren't in its budget.
For example, its heat and electricity costs are folded into those for the entire middle school building. By calculating the cost per square foot, the auditorium would account for about $28,000 of the building's $250,000 annual budget for those utilities, Gousse said.
And it will be a while before the school department pays off the auditorium's $4.1 million construction bond, taken out in 2008 at a 5 percent interest rate over 20 years. This year's payment is $375,000.
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Jamie Grant, manager of the Westbrook Performing Arts Center, oversees a Dancers Inc. competition last month. Holding 100 revenue-generating events per year isn’t realistic, he said.