Exec. Director says ‘unearned revenue’ will be needed to operate during formative years

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 27, 2005

Although the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts is expected to open in less than a year, it’s likely to be some time before the facility is able to pay its own way.

Michael Bollinger, the SCCA’s newly-hired executive director, said during Wednesday’s Downtown Business Association meeting that he expects the center’s operating budget to be about $1 million annually.

While rental fees and admissions will offset some of that, there will still be a need for &uot;unearned revenue,&uot; he said.

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&uot;The first few formative years will be the most critical for the theater,&uot; said Bollinger, who for 25 years managed the Lyceum Theater in Arrow Rock, Mo. He noted it took time for him to get that facility to where it was viable.

&uot;We’re going to have to work to get people here, but that’s what I’ve had success with.&uot;

During his time at the Lyceum, attendance grew from about 6,500 annually to more than 30,000.

The cultural arts center joins the courthouse, Professional Building and Hilton Garden Inn and Suffolk Conference Center as centerpieces of the downtown development plan. The center will house a restaurant, theater, classrooms, a senior center and the city’s department of parks and recreation administrative offices.

Like almost all such facilities, the center will have to stage annual fundraising drives, Bollinger said.

Rental income from the city – Suffolk Parks and Recreation administrative offices, the Suffolk Senior Center and Childhood Development office will be housed there – along with theater admissions and classroom rentals will provide the bulk of the facility’s earned revenue, Bollinger said.

Bollinger is hopeful the city, realizing the economic importance of the center, will include funding for it in its annual operating budget.

Surrounding cities heavily subsidize their theaters and museums because they understand the importance of the quality of life issues that surround them, Bollinger said.

&uot;The center will only strengthen downtown and help it become a destination,&uot; he said.

Betsy Brothers, president of the SCCA’s foundation, said Thursday that officials have not approached the city about helping defray operating expenses. She is hopeful they won’t have to.

&uot;The cultural center is a huge reason for all these businesses coming here,&uot; Brothers said of the resurgent downtown area. &uot;We were all here. We remember when everything was boarded up.&uot;

Almost half of the $20 million cultural arts center will be funded through tax credits, Brothers said. She noted that the center is the biggest tax credit project in the state.

The city has invested $6.8 million for the center with the remainder – $4.5 million – having been raised from private sources, Brothers said.

&uot;They are getting this wonderful facility for one-third the entire amount,&uot; she said. &uot;You talk about economic benefit, but here you have cultural activity and historic preservation.

&uot;It will have a huge impact.&uot;

Bollinger said Wednesday that construction on the facility should be complete by February 2006. About two months later, a grand opening will kick off nearly a month of festivities.

Among the facility’s amenities Bollinger discussed Wednesday are a restaurant, gift shop, a museum of when the building served as Suffolk High School, a 530-seat theater, a ballroom with room for 300 to 500 people, technology lab for computer classes, a music room, several dance studios, a photography classroom, a potter studio and a senior center that will be open six days a week.

&uot;It’s an exciting project,&uot; he said.