After closure, uncertainty hangs over Missouri Theatre's future

Wednesday, July 21, 2010 | 8:53 p.m. CDT; updated 12:24 a.m. CDT, Friday, August 13, 2010
Patrons wait outside the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts for the doors to open for its Grand Opening Gala, which featured singer Tony Bennett, on May 21, 2008.

COLUMBIA — After announcing on Wednesday morning that the Missouri Theatre would be closed until early September, organizers were vague about what happens next.

Eric Staley, the outgoing chief executive officer, who earlier this month announced he would quit his post July 31, declined to comment on the closure, terming it a “board decision.”


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Christina George, board of directors president of the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts, said the board would meet Tuesday to chart a way forward.

George had some reassuring words for groups, such as the MU School of Music, which is slotted to perform at the theater Sept. 23.

“All outstanding contracts will be honored,” George said. “We’re working very hard to make sure that happens.”

A calendar of events posted on the organization’s website showed the theater is booked for shows up to May next year.

As part of the closure, three full-time employees will be laid off at the end of this month: Kanani May, the director of public relations and management, Taylor Richardson, the technical director, and Afton Thomas, the box office manager and director of arts education.

The theater's ticket booth wasn't operating Wednesday afternoon.

The board said in a release it hopes to hold an “immediate" fundraiser to rehire Maestro Kirk Trevor, the theater's artistic director, whose contract ends July 31.

“The temporary closure of the theater is a financial necessity,” the board said in its statement.

Staley said in an interview with the Missourian earlier this month that the theater needs an urgent cash injection of up to $1 million to become financially stable.

Total costs for a restoration project completed in May 2008 exceeded initial budget estimates by $4 million, pushing the theater into financial difficulties.

A $2.5 million debt — out of the final renovation cost of $10 million — remains unpaid. An arbitration judgment in a dispute with the renovation's main contractor, Huebert Builders, is expected by the end of August. About $400,000 could be added to the theater’s debt load if Huebert wins.

In the interview, Staley said enough money had been set aside to meet the monthly loan payments of $23,000 through the end of this year.

On Wednesday, board member Cindy Mustard confirmed Staley’s assessment that the theater requires a significant cash boost to survive. She said the much-hoped-for “big donation” had not come through.

Staley also said in the early July interview an organizational restructuring is needed to save on the theater’s operating costs.

During the renovation, the Missouri Symphony Society — which previously ran the theater — was split into three additional companies: the Missouri Symphony Society Management LLC, the Missouri Theatre Land Company LLC and the Missouri Theatre Master Tenant LLC, which were used to take advantage of fundraising opportunities and federal and state tax credits.

But with the renovation now complete, the four entities have led to increased administrative costs without bringing in enough money to pay the debt.

The board said in the statement it would “solicit proposals from professional theater management companies" to craft a new business plan for the theater.

Additional members “with expertise in the entertainment business” will also be brought on board, the statement added.

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Virgil Sollozzo July 22, 2010 | 1:39 p.m.
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rob adams July 22, 2010 | 2:12 p.m.

It might be a good idea to actually read the article before commenting. The theater clearly exercised no cost control in renovation, then ran it into the ground with operating costs - sounds a lot like the Bush Administration doesn't it?

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Virgil Sollozzo July 22, 2010 | 2:46 p.m.
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