Its safe to say that personnel at the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts (BCPA) — which operates the city-owned Rialto and Pantages theatres, as well as Theatre on the Square — would like to forget about their struggles last fall.
On Oct. 14, the Tacoma Fire Department closed the Pantages due to concerns about the fire curtain that separates the stage from the audience. Even after the theatre opened Nov. 5, technical difficulties remained: the theatre temporarily hired additional staff to lower the fire curtain in the case of an emergency.
On Nov. 9, the Rialto Theatre closed after fire and electrical inspections cited safety concerns, including the capability of the theatre seats to automatically retract during an emergency. Though the theatre received approval to re-open Nov. 24, the balcony remained closed until Dec. 1 due to continued repairs.
Scheduled performances were either moved to a different location or cancelled completely. In one instance, the city paid over $100,000 in damages to a renter when the Pantages closed. Since then, a number of management issues surfaced — namely, who was responsible for maintenance to the aging theatres? And who had the authority to authorize the needed repairs?
The city hired Tom Mitze, a California-based consultant with experience in theatre management, to provide analysis, insight and recommendations for how the citys major theatres are operated.
According to Mitze, what he discovered was unprecedented.
The agreement between the City of Tacoma and BCPA is ambiguous, particularly in regards to maintenance, Mitze told the City Council during its study session yesterday. The managing director works for the city but reports to BCPA, which presents difficulty in coming up with accountability. Ive never seen that before, and it puts the managing director in an awkward position.
Indeed, the relationship between the city (which provided almost $980,000 from the 2003-2004 biennium budget to BCPA for operating expenses, earmarked $300,000 in capital reserves for major maintenance, and pledged $1,000,000 in matching funds for BCPAs fundraising efforts for capital improvements) and BCPA is curious at best, acrimonious at worst.
If we failed in the past, said BCPA Board President Larry J. Couture, its because the direction was not as clear as it should have been.
Mitze reported that maintenance of the theatres was the biggest issue he observed. Will the theatres be open six months from now, or will other issues shut them down? asked Mitze, referring to feedback and concerns received from theatre staff and city employees. They were also concerned about cleanliness and communication between groups and BCPA, Mitze said.
That said, Mitze outlined three options for improving management operations.
The first option calls for BCPA or another local non-profit organization to assume full responsibility for the facilities through a long-term contract from the city. That entity would recruit and hire an executive director with full authority and responsibility for the management, operation, maintenance and programming of the facilities. The executive director would report to BCPA or the local non-profit board of directors. Staff would be employees of the BCPA or the local non-profit and report to the executive director.
The second option calls for the city to assume full responsibility for the theatres through the Public Assembly Facilities Department (PAF). The PAF would recruit and hire an on-site general manager to supervise the operation, management and maintenance of the facilities. The general manager would not present performing arts or engage in fundraising. Rather, BCPA would become a non-profit resident presenter of touring performances with its fundraising directed toward support of its performing arts activities. Under this option, BCPA would no longer raise funds for capital improvements.
The third option calls for the city to contract with a private theatre management company to staff and operate the theatres. Similar to the second option, BCPA would become a non-profit resident presenter of touring performances with its fundraising directed toward support of its performing arts activities. BCPA would no longer raise funds for capital improvements.
Mitze also recommended several fundamental changes. There needs to be one organization in charge and one individual designated as accountable, he said. He also suggested that the city establish distinct revenue and building maintenance or capital streams of funding. City money should not be spent on presenting performances, Mitze said. City money should go towards maintenance of the facilities it owns. If the city chooses to subsidize performances, it should do so through grants, instead of co-mingling its funds.
Mitze suggested that there would be broad support for the first option, which would allow the BCPA to continue its planned performing arts programming for the 2005-2006 season and capital campaign to expand and enhance the Pantages Theatre.
Several council members agreed.
Segregating the money would provide full accountability for what our subsidies provide, said Councilwoman Julie Anderson, who supported the first option. Job one for the city is to protect its assets — the buildings. The first option would do that.
Anderson also recommended a clear definition of the relationship between the city and BCPA, including a contract that would outline measurable outcomes desired from BCPA by the City, and an annual facilities walk-through by both parties.
The city is setting itself up to have less involvement in the operations and give more authority to BCPA, said Councilman Tom Stenger, who supported the first option.
Councilman Kevin Phelps supported the first option, but expressed concerns over whether the plan would address the issue of resources and funding for maintenance improvements to the theatres. A lot of this is a resource issue, Phelps said. No matter what you do with the BCPA board, we have to address resources. One of the reasons were not maintaining our theatres is that we dont have the money.
City Manager Jim Walton is expected to move forward based on the recommendations from Mitze and feedback from the City Council. We need to re-invent BCPA, said Walton. According to Walton, the first option would more clearly delineate lines of authority, responsibility, accountability and reporting related to the management, operations, programming and maintenance of the citys theatres. If BCPA is not willing to reinvent itself, which I have every reason to believe it will, we need to create that entity that BCPA does not want to be.