City receptive to theater recommendations

Apr. 05, 2014 @ 02:43 PM

Those who will shape the future of High Point’s city-run theater say they’re open to a committee’s recommendations that call for a major public investment in the financially struggling facility.
But, High Point City Council members cautioned, they haven’t made any decisions on whether to grant the High Point Theatre committee what it’s asking for — about $1.5 million for capital improvements, more money to book bigger-name artists and the hiring of someone to market the theater full time.
“I don’t know how much of it we’ll be able to do, because it’s quite a list,” said Mayor Bernita Sims. “I don’t think the theater will be a true income-generator in the sense that it will pay for itself. We’re competing for talent with two other cities that have much deeper pockets than we do.”
For years, the city has subsidized the theater. Officials project it will take $564,548 from the city’s general fund to fill a gap between the theater’s revenues and expenses this year.
“It’s such an asset, and we’ve got so much invested in it, I think we should try something to, I guess, move it forward. I want to see it grow so it lessens the burdens on the taxpayers,” said Councilman Jim Davis.
The committee, made up of residents appointed by the council last year to study the theater, recommended increasing its budget for artist fees from the current amount of $80,000 to $200,000. Davis said he believes this could help the theater generate revenue.
“Lots of theaters we compete with that are smaller than us have $200,000 to $275,000 in their artist fee budgets,” he said. 
Davis said he believes the committee’s recommendation to explore using parts of the theater facility for rentals for meetings and social events has merit.
The committee also suggested forming a foundation to assist with raising money for capital expenditures at the theater.
Councilwoman Becky Smothers questioned whether there’s enough support for the arts in the private sector in High Point to make something like this work.
“All those things sound really good,” Smothers said. “They’ve worked in other places. I won’t say they can’t work here, but we have a struggling arts council that is trying to meet their financial commitment for their facility that has tremendous potential.”
She said the discussion about the theater going forward needs to focus on what type of artists and shows will help it develop a niche.
“City-owned facilities aren’t going to make a profit. Anybody that thought that was on the wrong committee,” Smothers said. “But I think it does become a question of how much subsidy is appropriate.”
Councilman Jason Ewing said he believes the theater is at a disadvantage because of its lack of visibility inside the mammoth International Home Furnishings Center.
“I agree with what (the committee) says that, if we’re going to have a theater, we need to give it all the tools it needs to be successful,” Ewing said. “It doesn’t make sense to put the kind of money we’ve put in the theater and leave it shorthanded where it can’t bring in the quality acts they need to really fill the seats.”
Councilwoman Judy Mendenhall said the council hasn’t had much discussion yet about the committee’s recommendations. She said she believes decisions about funding will be made during the budget review process this spring. One decision council faces concerns $500,000 to replace the theater’s rigging and draperies that already has been budgeted but not yet spent.
Mendenhall said she would like to explore whether theater students at Guilford Technical Community College’s High Point campus could help out with marketing.
“Couldn’t we work out a situation where some of their kids work at the theater for credit and save us a bit?” she said.
pkimbrough@hpe.com | 888-3531