Acts that can fill the 1,000-seat main theater have been few and far between at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center.
Wolf Larson, executive director of the Burnsville Performing Arts Center, has some news for country music fans living south of the river: Taylor Swift will not be coming to the PAC.
As much as he would like to answer their wishes, and present one of country music's brightest young stars before a packed house in the new 1,000-seat theater, the numbers simply don't add up.
Such is life at the controversial $20 million city-built facility, which is experiencing the expected growing pains following its Jan. 21 grand opening.
The impressive facility has been busy with community events, school activities and performances in its 100-seat theatre. The PAC hosted 40 events in its first 50 days, including shows on the main stage and smaller "black box" stage, meetings, and other events.
But the main stage, more often than not, remains dark.
After a relatively busy month of February, there were only three days of performances on the big stage in March. Comedian Ralphie May performed on the main stage on Saturday, and the stage is booked only two more days for the remainder of April.
As of late last week, there were two days of events booked for May and two for June.
"Keeping the main stage busy is the toughest part of this thing,'' Larson said. "And it's also going to be the most rewarding.''
The 2009 budget Larson presented to the city in December has a projected deficit of $265,478. The remaining four years of the city's contract with VenuWorks, the Iowa-based company hired to run the PAC, lists expected deficits of approximately $200,000 a year.
This year's budget anticipates the main stage being in use for 50 days, which averages out to less than a day a week.
Larson said he believes the main stage will be in use a couple of times a week by year's end. He's confident the main stage will feature performances four to eight days per week during the 2009-10 season.
Burnsville City Manager Craig Ebeling said the PAC is "doing pretty well" when all factors are considered.
"We are committed to running the facility as profitable as it can be,'' Ebeling said. "We have a good team in place.''
The lack of activity on the main stage is not a surprise to Larson. He was unable to attend this year's Association of Performing Arts Presenters' Conference, held every January in New York, due to the opening of the PAC. It is there, he said, that deals begin to be made between promoters and venues.
"At this point we are just trying to play catch-up for this season,'' Larson said. "The season runs from Labor Day to Memorial Day, so a lot of acts already are booked.''
Larson added that the economic downturn has contributed to the slow start. Asked if that is putting added pressure on him to try to fill the main stage, Larson said, "I have no idea how much more pressure there could be. All eyes are on this place.''
The PAC provides the city an event summary every month. There were 7,808 tickets sold to events in February on the main and smaller black box stages, which provided $44,683 of revenue for the city.
Larson and his 10-person staff are employed by VenuWorks. Its national director of programming, Phil Potter, works with the various promoters who book the talent.
Promoters pay $1,500 a night to rent the main theatre, which Larson said is market competitive.
"I'm essentially a theatrical retailer,'' Larson said. "I have a specialty store and if somebody else wants to sell their product they need a specialty store to sell it.''
Larson is confident there is no shortage of artists who would be interested in performing at the PAC. He mentioned classical musicians, dance companies, speakers taking part in lecture series, singer-songwriters and stand-up comedians among those whose acts fit nicely with the size of the main theatre.
"We recognize that every dollar that flows through the facility is taxpayer dollars,'' Larson said. "It is our charge to be an effective shepherd to those taxpayer dollars and to generate revenue in sufficient amounts to be able to take care of this place without relying so much on subsidy from the city.
"It is going to take some time to get there. I think everybody recognizes that, having made the investment in the facility, it is in everybody's best interest to allow us to find our footing.''
Dean Spiros • 952-882-9203