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Sarasota Thursday, Jul. 29, 2010 7 years ago

City weighs Van Wezel's options

by: Robin Roy City Editor

Having reduced the taxpayer subsidy for the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall from $1 million to $150,000, City Manager Bob Bartolotta is ready to explore other options for supporting the entertainment venue.

“We’re going to look for ways to save money,” he said.

The city manager is reviewing several options to accomplish that goal.

One is to leave the hall and its management as is and keep working to reduce the taxpayer subsidy, which has declined every year since 2007, when it was $1 million.

Hiring a contractor to manage the Van Wezel is another option, but Bartolotta is not sure it would save money.

“The Mahaffey (Theater, in St. Petersburg) has a private management company, but it has a $1 million subsidy,” he said.

The city is also considering finding a contractor to handle all aspects of the performances the Van Wezel books.

Bartolotta said several staff members have suggested changing the performance hall to a new nonprofit organization, but he said he’s skeptical about that option.

“The theory is that if it’s a nonprofit, people would donate more to it, but we already have the Van Wezel Foundation,” he said. “I’m not convinced (that would work.)”

City leaders have worked to reduce the Van Wezel subsidy, because they don’t feel city taxpayers should be shouldering the entire burden of keeping it running — especially because less than 15% of the Van Wezel’s audience lives within the city limits.

Measures, such as instituting a $2 parking fee per ticket in fiscal year ’08-’09, have been aimed at passing costs along to the actual Van Wezel users, wherever they live.

Bartolotta said the discussions over how best to handle the Van Wezel’s future will continue throughout the year.

City Manager Bob Bartolotta cited five factors in cutting the taxpayer subsidy for the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall from $1 million in 2007 to $150,000 in the upcoming fiscal year:

• Staff cuts
• Remaining staff picking up more responsibilities
• Better programming
• More aggressive marketing
• More monetary contributions from the Van Wezel Foundation

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