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Local leaders hatch Playhouse rescue plan

Henderson County Commissioner Larry Young, local business leaders and past and present Playhouse leaders met Thursday morning to try to work out a financial rescue of the financially imperiled theater.

The framework of the rescue involves a pledge of $100,000 from an anonymous donor that would be matched by the Playhouse. If the Playhouse raises the matching grant, Young said, he would commit to trying to get a majority of the Board of Commissioners to go along with releasing $50,000 to the Playhouse, the remaining amount the board had allocated when it adopted the 2012-13 budget.

Young said in a statement that he wanted supporters to set up a Friends of the Playhouse oversight group to advise the official Playhouse board and examine its operations "from the ground up," and he called on the Village of Flat Rock to support the Playhouse by matching the county's appropriation of $100,000.
"I asked them to do a reorganization and to look at their salaries and to look at the financial officer position so this wouldn't be a band-aid and they wouldn't be coming back asking for more money," Young said.
The meeting lasted three hours and involved 12 to 15 people with an interest in the Playhouse and who had ideas on how to save it. Young said he felt more confident in the Playhouse's commitment to a business plan that can assure the theater's stability.
"I think they will (follow through) because what we've been wanting the Flat Rock Playhouse to do is prove that they're going to be solvent and that we're not going to just be spitting in the ocean by giving that money," he said.

"Those attending this meeting included those who in the past have been identified as both supporters and critics of the recent operations of the Playhouse," he said in a statement. "We held a frank and open (and sometimes heated) exchange of views and ideas regarding the problems and opportunities for the Playhouse.
Among those attending were Playhouse president Bill McKibbin, past president Chris Ricker; John Sheiry, another past president; local businessman Jeff Miller, former county commissioner Bill Moyer; Steve Carlisle, a Playhouse critic and former actor at the theater; county attorney Russ Burrell; Dave Adams, a financial adviser; Carl Shaw, the Playhouse CPA; Virginia Gambill, a Playhouse supporter who also has been critical of recent administrative changes; and several other people.
McKibbin called the meeting a positive development for the Playhouse, especially in that indicated a greater sense that the Playhouse will make it through this season and survive to put on a 61st season in 2013. McKibbin and other Playhouse leaders have said this week that consumer confidence is critical, and that negative publicity and comments by appointed and elected officials have hurt fundraising and ticket sales.
"We need that consumer confidence to be strong," he said. "We need the box office phone to ring and we need people to come out to the shows. We're working as hard as we can to get the donations nailed down."
McKibbin confirmed that the donor had made the pledge, which the Playhouse must match with its current fundraising blitz.

Miller said the people in the room eventually came to a resolution that the community will find a way to save the Playhouse.

"We will not stand by and allow the Playhouse to go under and we will not stand by and lose the state theater without a huge fight," Miller said. "Today we showed a lot of will and we showed that there's a way and we will find a way."

The meeting contained lively back-and-forth and plenty of disagreement but in the end the supporters of the Playhouse agreed to go forward with a plan that would produce enough money to keep the theater alive.
Moyer, who resigned from the Playhouse finance committee earlier this month in a disagreement over the theater's direction, said he had to leave the meeting before it ended. What he saw, though, did not convince him that the organization had committed to substantive change, he said.
"Do you want to get to the end of the year or do you want to have a stable Playhouse?" he said. "I was not satisfied with any level of commitment of change I think is necessary for the future of the Playhouse. I think if you're going to make a public appeal to raise money and to carry over into next year you need a change of leadership and a change in direction."
McKibbin said that the Playhouse had made substantial changes to its approach in the 2013 season and has committed to hiring a financial officer — some people are calling the position general manager and others a controller.

The most significant commitment Young made, McKibbin said, was that he would buy season tickets himself. Until Thursday, only Commissioner Michael Edney had come out strongly for the Playhouse and had committed to buying 2013 season tickets.

"I told him if he'd give them the money I'd go pick them up for him," McKibbin said of Young's offer.

"We feel like the ball's moving in the right direction. We just need to keep pushing it," he said. "I think it was a huge step in the right direction."

Here is a statement released by Young at 4 p.m. today:

Statement of Commissioner Larry Young:

I arranged a meeting today between various community leaders and members of the Flat Rock Playhouse board, held in my office at the Historic Courthouse. Those attending this meeting included those who in the past have been identified as both supporters and critics of the recent operations of the Playhouse. We held a frank and open (and sometimes heated) exchange of views and ideas regarding the problems and opportunities for the Playhouse.

Each person attending this meeting agreed that the Playhouse is a tremendous asset for the community, and that every reasonable effort must be expended to keep it viable. Bill McKibbin of the Board of Directors explained in detail the Board's financial plan for 2013. Besides various financial measures to lower expenses, the Board stated that all 2013 presentations will be family friendly, and in keeping with the long traditions of the Playhouse.

While all agreed that the plan is a good one, it was clear that some additional steps remain to insure the success of the Playhouse. I personally strongly support the Playhouse, and want to do what I can to insure its long-run viability. But of course I have an overriding responsibility as Commissioner to do everything I can to make certain that County funds are not wasted. The Board of Commissioners appropriated $100,000 to the Playhouse organization in Fiscal Year 2013, one-half of which is yet to be paid.

I believe, as a result of this meeting, and with the safeguards and steps outlined below, with which the Playhouse board members present were in agreement, that the expenditure of the funds allocated and budgeted by the Board of Commissioners is still a wise step. These safeguards and the steps to be taken include:

I will advocate that the remaining $50,000 of County funds will be paid on the previously agreed schedule, on the condition that these funds be used first for the salary of a new financial overseer for the Playhouse corporation, who will have day-to-day control over its fiscal operations.

A new "local money" fund-raising push be undertaken. A community member who wishes to remain anonymous has pledged to match funds pledged by December 31 as result of this push, up to a maximum of $100,000.

A new "Friends of the Playhouse" group be established of outside local business and professional persons to advise the board and the public on future steps for the Playhouse. This group will reexamine, from the ground up, all aspects of the operations.

Finally, I call upon the Village of Flat Rock to support its local asset by matching the County's previously budgeted contribution to Playhouse. More than any other area of the County the citizens of the Village are benefitted by the Playhouse's presence and vitality.

I am confident that these steps will give the Playhouse the foundation for even greater successes in the future. an anonymous donor that would be matched by the Playhouse. If the Playhouse raised the matching grant, Young said, he committed to trying to get a majority of the Board of Commissioners to go along with releasing $50,000 to the Playhouse, the remaining amount the board had allocated when it adopted the 2012-13 budget.