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Playhouse defends economic impact figures

FLAT ROCK — Flat Rock Playhouse officials are defending the economic impact data they have been using in their appeal to local governments for funding in the upcoming budget year.

The Playhouse, which is launching an unprecedented fundraising blitz this week, has sought grants from Henderson County and the cities of Hendersonville and Flat Rock in recent weeks. Some county commissioners said during a budget workshop last week that they were reluctant to allocate a grant but could endorse raising the county's hotel tax and directing the proceeds to the Playhouse. A penny increase in the current 5 percent bed tax would raise about $220,000, according to the county finance office.
Commissioner Mike Edney and state Sen. Tom Apodaca, one of the top leaders of the state Senate, have discussed the idea of raising the hotel tax for the Playhouse. But last week Commissioner Larry Young emphatically criticized the idea and said he would oppose it.
"I just don't think we need to do that for a specific entity, especially a private enterprise," Young told the Lightning this week. "I'm against that. Any room tax should go to Travel and Tourism and let them spend it."
Young also said he doubted figures the Playhouse has used to tie its performances to overall local and visitors spending in Henderson County. The theater drew 96,000 patrons in 2011 and projects the sale of 100,000 seats this year. The mix is 57 percent tourists and 43 percent local. An economic impact study originally conducted in 2003 by Appalachian State University and Western Carolina University and updated in 2006 and for this year said put the impact at $7 million in 200. Adjusted for inflation and accounting for the Music on the Rock and other shows in the Playhouse's downtown space plus classes and performances in the new YouTheatre Education Center, the impact in 2012 should be about $10 million, the Playhouse says.
The Playhouse and a theater trade group, in "Theater Facts 2010: A Report on the Fiscal State of the Professional Not-for-Profit American Theatre," said:

• During shoulder months on either side of summer local patrons make up 70% of attendance
• The Playhouse audience is composed of 60% female, 40% male
• 50% of visitors primary reason to visit is to attend a play
• Average age is 55.
• The top five states where patrons live are North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Virginia.
• Aside from tickets, patrons spend an average of $25.47 each in town.
The Playhouse also said that it provides theater education to more than 10,000 students each year in area public and private school districts and this year has enrolled 700 students in its YouTheatre arts education programs. The theater says it brings in $18 in money from ticket sales and donations for every dollar it receives from government sources. It employs 28 fulltime employees and over 200 part time employees annually and has a payroll of just under $2 million. The Playhouse has historically outpaced other similar-sized organizations in the percentage of budget generated by ticket sales. The Playhouse sells 80 percent more tickets than the average theater its size, said the Theatre Communications Group, a trade organization. The theater currently receives only $5,000 from the hotel tax "despite being the primary reason why close to 30,000 patrons visit Henderson County."
Last year the Playhouse received a $100,000 grant from the city of Hendersonville and $25,000 from the Village of Flat Rock. It is requesting those amounts again this year. Both towns and the Henderson County Board of Commissioners are expected to wrap up budget deliberations in the next couple of weeks. Under state law they must adopt budgets by July 1.