Mayor Loughmiller has done a good job in what one of my mentors called “taking the drama out of it”. He started out the meeting saying the it is not the intention of the Council that the facility be closed. That is not on the table, he says. No matter what changes result from this process, the facility will remain open and will continue to operate with a focus of being a performing arts center.
I did try to confirm that what is being discussed is no more, in substance, than “tweaks” to the current set-up and that MPAC, the Youth Actor’s Guild and businesses operating out of the Courthouse (like Joyful Dance) are not going to be negatively impacted. He referred back to what he had said at the opening and did say that they have too much invested to start over. While initially soothing, I am not sure that that can be taken as the confirmation that I hoped for.
The issue with MPAC is budgetary. A peer review commissioned last year showed that the performance of similar venues in the metroplex suggests that the Center currently relies more heavily on public funding than is necessary or desired. Mayor Loughmiller said that while McKinney was in a relatively good position financially for the last budget compared to other cities, the best information about the economic forecast for 2010 indicated another lean year. In fact, he said that the Council is getting involved with the 2011 budget earlier this year than what has been traditional. It sounded like they were beginning to look at it now instead of June or July. No one said anything about reducing the support for MPAC in 2011 but the Mayor did use the phrase during discussion of the budget of “what the city can afford”. I would not draw any conclusions from that simple phrase but would keep in mind that that is what it all comes down to in the end.
On a positive note, the Council Members that spoke – Ray Ritchie and Pete Huff – and the Mayor seem to be on the same page in that their focus seems to be on raising revenues rather than just trying to cut expenses. Even though the Center is a not-for-profit, it still operates under the same principles as any other business. You can improve the financials by reducing expenses and increasing revenues, but one approach will usually receive more emphasis. Increasing revenue is generally more challenging.
There are three scenarios that are being considered. One will be chosen. A full discussion of all three scenarios is available on the McKinney Performing Arts Center web site (click here). (A complete overview of everything is available by going to the Center’s web site at http://www.mckinneyperformingartscenter.org and clicking on “MPAC Visioning Process” on the right.)
Briefly, here are my interpretations of the three scenarios. As always, those in the know should feel free to correct me:
Scenario 1 – Focuses on MPAC as an “Arts-centered Operation” attempting to appeal to a wide regional audience. This approach will “focus the programming on performance hours of operation during the late week and weekend evenings Thursday through Sunday”. This approach would “minimize concurrent uses” and “limit public restroom convenience”. This is the one that has raised the most concern with locals who are currently using the facility during the day and during the week. It is not clear that they would still be accomodated under this scenario.
Scenario 2 – Focuses on MPAC as a “High Traffic Facility” appealing to a wide local audience. This approach actually calls for increasing the hours of operation and increasing concurrent uses. One of the elements of this approach is to increase “merchant buy-in”. (more about that in a minute). While this is good for businesses operating out of the Courthouse like Joyful Dance and for the youth groups that have activities during the day, during the week, it is unclear that MPAC programs would continue under this scenario.
Scenario 3 – Focuses on “Expanded Operations With Redefined Objectives”. This approach is to create a community/arts center by increasing weekday and daytime use and making the building more accessible to the public. Honestly, the description of this scenario comes off as somewhat random. Open the first floor doors, bring in the CVB, Main Street, MCDC or a similar City department, staff someone in the lobby and display local art. The benefit in this approach is that they would cut the advertising budget because they would no longer be trying to draw in a regional audience. That suggests that MPAC performances would not continue.
Okay, so those are the scenarios. I am not sure why merchant buy-in is under Scenario 2. What they mean by the phrase is getting the square merchants to be open during the times that the Center is trying to bring people to the square. As the businesses are already open during the day, during the week, they pretty much already have their “buy-in” by default under Scenario 2. Where they really need merchant buy-in is for Scenario 1. As anyone who works a normal office job knows, the shops are pretty much only accessible on Saturday during the day or on Sunday in the afternoon. But, even beyond that, MPAC would like to see the merchants open when their performances let out which can be around 10:30.
Another Time and Place just recently announced that they will be open until 9:00 on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. While I applaud the decision and hope that other merchants follow suit, I believe that it is unrealistic to expect more than that. I say that because Downtown’s potential often reminds me of a shopping district in Tampa called Central Ybor. You could go to Central Ybor, ditch your car with the valet for $3 and then spend the entire day in their pedestrian-friendly plaza shopping, eating and catching a movie. Their general hours are 10 AM to 8 PM Monday through Wednesday, 10 AM to 10PM Thursday through Saturday and 11AM to 7PM on Sunday. This is a smashingly popular area and I think their hours reflect a more realistic goal. (http://www.centroybor.com/)
There were a number of comments made at the meeting tonight from the audience, so I will just hit the highlights. A representative from the Collin County Historic Preservation Group had many kudos for the Council but made a real hit when he produced a sample cushion from IKEA and suggested that simply purchasing cushions for the chairs at $6.99 a piece would be far less expensive than trying to remove and replace the current seating. Several people spoke in approval of that idea and at least one suggested customized seats that could be sold as souvenirs. One speaker suggested that the Courtroom Theatre be opened up to schools to use for recitals, plays, graduations, etc. for no charge with the idea that it would bring people downtown and actually INTO the building who might not otherwise have reason to see and appreciate the theatre. Two other suggestions, integrating historical flourishes with the building and having a city information kiosk in the building, were popular with Councilmembers. I think that would fall under Scenario 3.
Public input is still welcome. There will be one more public input forum next week on Thursday, March 18th at 5:30 PM. If you can not attend, you can submit your input through MPAC’s website. Click on the following link and then scroll down about half-way:
Public input is CRITICAL! These are our elected officials doing their very best to make everyone happy and we all know how hard that is.
I know this was a long post. Sorry about that.
Shopping therapy will help.
Until next time,