Somewhere between the 2005 sales pitch and its 2011 opening, the $80 million facility became a $175 million one. A $309,000 worst-case scenario government subsidy turned into more than $2 million a year in taxpayer assistance, according to an examination of the center’s finances by The Indianapolis Star. And the $40 million endowment that was supposed to be the center’s financial lifeblood hasn’t materialized, three years after its first show took center stage.
Some of the unmet expectations can be explained by the recession and a nationally struggling arts industry, others by the sheer difficulty of predicting a budget that was then six years away. But mostly, the plan simply changed - and few were told.
Today, the operating subsidy is an annual point of contention. Public information is hard to come by because financial reporting requirements are being ignored. Carmel City Council members, who control the funding, complain of broken promises and unexplained costs. And Mayor Jim Brainard fires back that the outcry is staged to score political points.
But they largely agree on what it all means for taxpayers.
“You can pout and say ‘I don’t like it,’ but you can’t say ‘I don’t want to pay for it.’ We have to make it as successful as we can make it,” Councilwoman Luci Snyder tells The Indianapolis Star (http://indy.st/R30h5n ). “So, we’re in this uneasy tandem: the council and the mayor.”
In 2005, the Center for Performing Arts was envisioned by project designers as a rental hall with a private promoter.
If Willie Nelson comes to town, the promoter pays his artist fees and the costs of producing a show, then eventually turns a profit through ticket sales and concessions. If a string quartet doesn’t sell enough seats to cover expenses, the promoter would take the loss - or, more likely, avoid the risk of presenting classical music, aside from household names.
Consultants used that business model to project a $2.5 million annual budget for the center’s nonprofit operating group - about $1.5 million for salaries, and another $1 million to pay for facility and support costs. With a promoter taking on the costs of bringing artists to town, all but $300,000 of the center’s expenses would have been covered by rental fees; there would have been no need for government support if modest annual fundraising goals were met.
But that model didn’t match what Brainard and the Carmel Redevelopment Commission, which owns the facility, wanted the center to become - ground zero for an arts renaissance that would help Carmel compete with cities around the country for businesses and their affluent workers.
“It’s very important, especially when we’re competing against San Diego and New York and Miami, and places with much better weather and natural amenities,” Brainard says. “Young people pick places they want to live.”
In the 1,600-seat Palladium, the center’s anchor, city leaders had what they say is a world-class concert hall, an acoustical marvel that could drive tourism. Add the Tarkington, a 500-seat theater with an orchestra pit, and the 200-seat Studio Theater, and Carmel had a venue for everything - music, drama, dance and comedy.
But it also had a community resource, one that could promote the arts and educate, if someone were willing to pay for it.
When an Italian theater company, Teatro Di Piazza D’Occasione, came to perform “Blue! The Mediterranean Sea,” the artists worked with special needs kids during their stay in Carmel. When Rioult Dance Company visited from New York, members taught classes for Butler University graduate students. They also held workshops for local instructors on the challenges of running a dance company.