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Village to vote on $100,000 Playhouse donation

Jeff Miller urges the Village Council to support the Flat Rock Playhouse. Jeff Miller urges the Village Council to support the Flat Rock Playhouse.

FLAT ROCK — Flat Rock Playhouse officials faced three hours of tough questions today but with the backing of a new group of influential and connected business leaders left with a proposal on the table for a $100,000 donation from the Flat Rock Village Council.

The council will vote on the proposed appropriation at its Dec. 13 meeting. Mayor Robert Staton opened the meeting on Monday saying that after traveling for three weeks in November he returned home to find that "all hell had broken loose" at the Playhouse and that consumer confidence in the theater had crashed, causing "a real slowdown if not a stoppage in ticket sales."
Staton then recounted the stunning turn of events last week when Henderson County Commissioner Larry Young, the Playhouse's most vocal critic among commissioners, announced a Playhouse rescue plan that included a reversal of a pending decision to withhold the remaining half of the county's $100,000 funding commitment.
Staton ended the meeting shortly after noon by framing a way the village could meet Young's demand that the village match the county's funding level, at $100,000. The village has $50,000 in the current 2012-13 budget and has spent just $1,350 of it. Staton put on the table a plan to count $25,000 the village gave the Playhouse last January, add $50,000 this budget year and complete the $100,000 with $25,000 more in the 2013-14 budget.
"I think that would meet the letter and spirit of Mr. Young's challenge," he said.
The optimistic tone set at the Village Council meeting — even the theater's strongest opponents on that board acknowledged it needed to be saved — added to a brightening picture for the State Theatre of North Carolina, which announced in mid November that it had run out of cash and needed emergency help from public and private donors to stay alive. The Community Foundation of Henderson County announced on Monday morning a $5,000 donation from the Perry N. Rudnick Endowment Fund.
The Village Council brought the first public appearance by a powerful group of community leaders that grew out of last Thursday's meeting in Commissioner Young's office. The business leaders urged the Village Council to do its part to save the venerable theater across the street from Village Hall. Doing so would help businesses in Flat Rock, they said.

As he had done Thursday in the closed meeting at Commissioner Young's office, Playhouse president Bill McKibbin stood for almost three hours straight and fielded questions and criticism, this time from the council and from Flat Rock residents. For the first time in public McKibbin and the theater's producing artistic director, Vincent Marini, answered numerous questions that have been asked by people in the community since news broke of the financial crisis.

McKibbin and Marini said:

  • Provided it makes it to New Year's Day and is able to announce a 2013 season the Playhouse will hire a chief financial officer to handle the business side and negotiate contracts.
  • The expansion beyond the Flat Rock campus to the downtown space was a response divised in 2010 to a ceiling for ticket sales at the main stage to the need for new revenue stream to keep the theater viable. They defended the expansion as critical to the future of the Playhouse, saying the downtown shows are cheaper to produce, generate strong ticket sales and broaden the appeal of the Playhouse to attract new patrons.
  • The Playhouse has a credible business for 2013 and beyond, despite claims by its critics that it has no plan. "That's what you've got in front of you," McKibbin said after handing out a 19-page report on the theater's financial performance since 2008 and its expense and revenue projections for 2013.
  • The Playhouse invites alumni, such as Scott Treadway, Barbara Bradshaw and Linda Edwards, to play roles whenever roles come up that are suitable for them, Marini said. He answered a member of the audience who asked what had happened to veteran performers that Playhouse patrons had come to know and love.
  • The 2012 budget contains cuts of $249,550, revenue of $4.1 million and a projected end-of-year fund balance of $54,054. The season includes eight main stage shows, five Playhouse Downtown shows and Music on the Rock tributes in the downtown space to Dolly Parton, Neil Diamond, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Sting and the Police, Peter, Paul and Mary, Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5, the Eagles, Donna Summer, Lynard Skynard and the Allman Brothers.

Unlike the past several discussions in which opponents of public spending for the financially troubled theater dominated, village council speakers tilted heavily toward support and included some of the most respected business and political leaders in town.

Among those who spoke in favor of the Playhouse and urged the council to support it financially were Bud Hunter, patriarch of the Hunter Automotive Group; insurance man Bill Penny, whose daughter-in-law, Lynn Penny, is the Playhouse development director; Jeff Miller, the dry cleaner, HonorAir founder and civic activist; Robert Danos, the past Henderson County Republican Party chair and the local coordinator for the Pat McCrory gubernatorial campaign; and Dave Adams, the financial officer for golf course architect Tom Fazio and a partner of Miller's on HonorAir and other projects.