RBTL projects surplus for proposed downtown theater, arts groups still have questions

Aug 7, 2017

Rendering of the proposed Golisano Center for the Performing Arts and Tower
Credit Labella Associates/City of Rochester

The Rochester Broadway Theater league has released a projected budget for its proposed new downtown performing arts center.

The 10-year estimates show a net surplus within the first quarter at the venue and a surplus of more than $219,000 after the first full year in 2021.

The figures are based on 180 events a year with some of the revenue coming from a new source: parking.

Some in the arts community say they still have questions about the proposed 130 million dollar project, which is a joint venture between RBTL and local developer Morgan Communities.

Executives at Geva Theatre sent a letter to city council last week posing questions about the viability and impact of the proposed project which they say were raised by members of the arts, cultural, and design communities. 

When asked if he was concerned that the community at large might not be entirely sold on the project, RBTL chief operating officer John Parkhurst said doesn't think that is true.

"I think it's just pockets of individuals, they don't understand the project and what we're trying to do there and I think the more people understand it they'll come on board."

Parkhurst noted that RBTL initially considered various suburban sites for a new theater, and they are prepared to return to that plan if Rochester City Council does not approve the Parcel 5 project. A suburban performing arts center is one option Parkhurst said would certainly not be as beneficial to the arts community as a whole.

"Because, particularly if we go to the one site in Henrietta, we would build a multi-venue performing arts center. We would have two or three different venues; we wouldn't be bringing people to downtown. It would be more convenient for them to go to Henrietta; it would be less expensive for them to go to Henrietta, and that's gonna hurt everybody, and that's why we didn't want to do that."

Geva Theatre Center Artistic Director Mark Cuddy says they do not take a position either for or against the RBTL Parcel 5 project, but many questions still remain.

"Let's talk about it, maybe this is the best thing, we don't know. Maybe it will have a positive impact for other theaters and other non profits. We don't know. Let's do more studies, let's figure it out."

Cuddy said the point of the letter was to make sure city council members ask the right questions in regards to the future of the parcel. Since it's city land in question, he says the public should be more involved, and hopes there will be more transparency in the rest of the process.
"Will this just move the Auditorium audience or will it grow? What happens to the Auditorium and its neighborhood and all the businesses that have been sprouting up there that the city and the private sector have been investing in? Let's see some data." 

Plans for the Golisano Center for the Performing Arts call for a 3,000 seat theater, housing, retail, and restaurants.

A spokesman for Mayor Lovely Warren, James Smith, says City Hall wants to see the performing arts center move ahead because of  the positive impact they feel it will have.

“It’s a project that will bring hundreds of thousands of people to our city center on a yearly basis, and that’s so critical, to bring the type of excitement and energy to the center of our city that we need so we can propel it forward and continue to grow and thrive."

Smith says the project has the potential to create hundreds of jobs, and he says there already has been an independent study of the concept by Lincoln Center consultants. There is a public forum scheduled by City Council on Parcel 5 plans for Thursday at 5:30 p.m.  Smith says it will still be several months before a formal proposal is made to City Council, but he says the mayor's office welcomes the dialogue on the project.

Here are the RBTL budget projections: (scroll down to the bottom to see the projections for the new performing arts center:) 

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