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Andreotta's effort to defund Playhouse fails in 3-2 vote

Daniel Andreotta Daniel Andreotta

Defending the theater as a valuable contributor to the tourism economy, three Henderson County commissioners last week turned back an effort by Commissioner Daniel Andreotta to defund the Flat Rock Playhouse.

Commissioners had heard repeatedly last year from a handful of county residents who urged them to withdraw money from the Playhouse because it required patrons to wear facemasks and provide proof of vaccination against Covid. When it reopened to stage shows last summer, the Playhouse was required to comply with rules negotiated by Actors Equity and theater producers because the Playhouse uses professional actors.

“I get that they have to comply with some things because of who they employ,” Andreotta said, before adding, “I’m not a fan of a New York actors union implementing any kind of policy on Henderson County soil, period.”

Commissioners Rebecca McCall and Michael Edney responded with a strong defense of the $30,000 appropriation to the Playhouse on economic development grounds.

“The Flat Rock Playhouse brings a lot of tourists to this area, who spend money in our restaurants, who stay in our hotels, who buy things at our stores,” McCall said. She said while she understood the point residents had made about rules for attending shows, “that has all been resolved as far as wearing of masks, the requirement of vaccines. Their hands were tied in order to provide the entertainment that they could.

“In fact, before Covid, the Playhouse had reached a point where they were financially stable, they were not going to need any funding from the county and then Covid hit and we all know what happened with that.”

She called the $30,000 request “very reasonable” and that she had faith that Playhouse leaders would let commissioners know if the money is not needed.

Even though it operates as a nonprofit, Andreotta said, the Playhouse is a business that ought not receive taxpayers’ money.

“I’m just not in favor of government playing a role in business and picking a winner or loser,” he said.

Andreotta neglected to mention the $1.24 million commissioners gave in property tax refunds to eight manufacturing “winners” in the 2021 budget or tax give-backs totaling $731,000 in the current budget and $788,000 in the 2022-23 budget he voted to adopt later in the meeting.

“So to follow your logic,” Edney said to Andreotta, “we should stop our incentives program totally and not worry about the jobs and economic impact they provide.” The county Tourism Development Authority “did a study that shows that the Playhouse generates $10-14 million in our local economy.” The county has supported the Playhouse, he added, because the theater is “a driver of the local economy and that is why I support them and why I think we should continue to support them.”

Saying he agreed with Edney and McCall, Chairman Bill Lapsley joined those two in voting no on the motion. David Hill joined Andreotta in voting yes.