Second act for Broadway Center for the Performing Arts

After several years of production and infrastructure challenges at Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, the organization appears to have found higher ground.

An agreement was recently reached with a local stagehand union. The Center closed last fiscal year in the black. Donors have renewed faith in the organization (a request of its biggest donors to double their contributions was met; seven individuals and organizations have agreed to increase their donations from $150,000 to $330,000). And 75 percent of people recently surveyed view the organization positively.

Details of this turnaround were shared Tuesday during a presentation at City Hall by BCPA staff and board members.

“We have a new way of thinking about our community and our donors,” said BCPA executive director David Fischer. “It is hard-wired into this community to think of Ninth and Broadway as the center of town. Everything we do is an invitation to bring people downtown.”

Tuesday’s presentation was timed to mark the end of the first year of a five-year agreement between the City and BCPA to manage three City-owned theaters: Pantages, Rialto, and Theatre on the Square.

The agreement provides $500,000 per year in Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) monies from the City’s general fund to BCPA.

Fischer told councilmembers the organization was focused on a strategic plan designed to improve programming and community outreach, facilities, fund development, rental services, and governance.

According to Fischer, in the first year of its agreement, BCPA has tripled the number of performance nights, and doubled the amount of education programming. It has also conducted two community dialogues aimed at so-called “urban dwellers” 18- to 35-years-old, and members of the African American community. The meetings are designed to learn what programming Tacomans would like to see at its theaters. The organization has also established consistent rental policies, fees, and processes for all arts organizations.

Its biggest challenge, however, exists in $10-$12 million in deferred maintenance of the aged theaters. “The number one issue in all three theaters is the [heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning] system,” said Fischer.

Another expensive concern: seating inside the Pantages is 25 years old, and at the end of its life span, according to Fischer.

To those ends, the organization has put $379,000 of its first-year $500,000 City funding into a reserve fund. It also expects more income from its fund-raising efforts.
BCPA’s operations today are an improvement of a few years ago.

On Oct. 14, 2004, the Pantages was closed for nearly three weeks following a fire inspection that cited concerns about the fire curtain that separates the stage from the audience section of the theater, and various electrical problems.

On Nov. 9, 2004, the Rialto closed after fire and electrical inspections cited safety concerns, including the capability of the theater seats to automatically retract during an emergency.

But order was restored beginning last year.

In September 2006, the organization celebrated a $5.1 million renovation to the lobby of the historic Pantages Theater.

Still, it faced a setback in March when Tacoma Actors Guild folded. But Fischer anticipated 180-190 use nights at the three theaters this year.