The money that Burnsville taxpayers pay to support operation of the Burnsville Performing Arts Center dropped by 37 percent last year to $160,113 — the lowest operating deficit for the center since it opened in January 2009.
Attendance at events increased by 11 percent, from 110,423 in 2012 to 123,028 last year, with 48 percent of ticket holders coming from communities outside the south metro area, including Bloomington, Edina and Woodbury, according to a report from VenuWorks, the company that operates the city-owned center. Arts Center revenues also increased by 20 percent, from $975,000 in 2012 to $1.2 million last year.
"The attendance went up, the revenues went up and the deficit went down. I am never going to stop showing this chart," said Sal Mondelli, chairman of the city's Performing Arts Center Commission. "I think it's a testament to hanging in there and doing all the right things."
The center now feels to be such on an even keel that the advisory commission will ease back from five to four meetings a year, Mondelli said. Members will continue to receive monthly reports on operations, however.
The arts center made headlines after it opened for a first-year operating deficit of about $547,000, which was well above the $300,000 to $350,000 annual subsidy the city had expected. The disappointing start was attributed to the recession at the time, as well as the growing pains of a new venue. The center also lost two executive directors in its first five years.
The operating deficit totaled $253,466 in 2012. With last year's figure dropping to $160,113, the goal now is to keep lowering the city subsidy, said city spokesman Marty Doll. City Council Member Dan Kealey has said he would like it to fall to zero.
A $100,000 annual donation that Ames Construction will make to the center for 10 years starting this year will be used to reduce the public subsidy, Mayor Elizabeth Kautz said during a recent council discussion.
In return for that donation, the center will be renamed the Ames Center. The name change will happen this year, said Brian Luther, executive director of the Arts Center. The costs associated with changing the center's name and its promotional materials will be covered by the Ames 2014 donation; that means it won't be until next year that the entire donation is applied to the operating deficit, Luther said.
In 2013, the center picked up a few shows that had been scheduled for Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, which was closed from June 2012 to September 2013 for a $50 million remodeling project.
Also contributing to the positive returns for the year were sold-out performances by Ralphie May, Clint Black, Fab Four, Tommy Emmanuel and Rhythmic Circus. The center's prime tenants — Twin Cities Ballet of Minnesota, Dakota Valley Symphony and the Chameleon Theatre Circle — all had very successful seasons, as well, Luther said.
Luther credits the center's so-called "angel fund," which is made up of donations, with helping the Arts Center. The donations provide enough money for VenuWorks to bring in six to eight theatrical or musical performances a year and promote them to audiences, Luther said. These shows are in addition to those brought to the center by promoters who rent the building and line up the artists, Luther said. The center also is open for weddings and other private events.
At the end of December 2013, the angel fund balance was about $72,460, and the goal is to raise it to $100,000, Luther said.
The Arts Commission suggested using some of the Ames funds to increase the angel fund. The topic was raised before the City Council recently. The council did not act on it.