And we thought we were cheeky – all they want is a couple of hundred shy of a cool million. It won’t be as easy for BPAC this time around.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.   January 21, 2012  Well you have to give them some credit for having the temerity to ask the city for close to $1 million to tide them over until we get into an election year when all hell will break loose over just how much the Performing Arts Centre has cost the city so far.

The Burlington Performing Arts Centre (BPAC) is asking the city  for the $637,310 operating grant is usually gets.

It then wants the city to cover the $225,250 shortfall from last year.

Then add in $68,100 for a full-time technician and $63,600 for a full-time sales associate.

Those add up to $994,260 which is as close to a cool million as you can get when you have your hand out.

Can we expect these two additional staff members to require funding every year as things go forward?

While the Burlington Theatre Board, that group that oversees the Performing Arts Centre, will offer a justification for the amount they are requesting – one hopes that the council committee that will hear this request requires every blessed member of that board to be present in Council Chambers, the bald fact is that BPAC hasn’t figured out what it has to do to make the venue viable.

Their solution seems to be – just ask for more money.  The Mayor who sits on the Board seems prepared to go along with the request.

Just so we are sure who to watch for in the room – the members of the Board, based on the most recent information we have, are: Allan Pearson, Chairman; Rick Burgess, Vice-Chair; Peter Ashmore; Robert Ban; Councillor Rick Craven; Ilene Elkaim; Jeff Fielding, City Manager; Mayor Rick Goldring and Denise Walker

You know for certain that if the Performing Arts Centre had a surplus to show for the 2012 fiscal year they would all be sitting there in their finest preparing to take their bows and accept the kudos of a grateful city.

Do we have artists trying to do accounting?  It will be interesting to hear what the Performing Arts people have to say when they explain the need for additional funds.  The city’s approach to budget development now is to require a Business Case for every increase in funding.   In the document that council members now have BPAC sets out the base budget contribution as

$1,014,100 in 2014;

$1,034,400 in 2015 and

$1,055,100 for 2016

The base contribution just keeps inching higher and higher.  The public wasn’t told to expect this when they bought into the project.  It’s too late now to go back – the building is up and operational – the question now is – can we afford what we have?  Are we doing this the right way?  Are the right people in place?

BPAC staff are predicting that attendance from the 2013 – 73,000 will rise to 90,000 in 2013 and 96,000 in 2014.

And that ticket revenue will climb from the 2012  $549,450 to 656,000 in 2013 and $669,100 in 2014

Advertising, sponsorship and fund-raising will go from the 2012 – $250,000 to $260,000 in 2013 and 265,200 in 2014.  These numbers appear to have some reasonableness in them.

Rental revenue is predicted to climb from the $280,000 in 2012 to $368,675 in 2013 and then to $376,000 in 2014.  Given the difficulty with rentals to date these numbers just might have been written by an accountant whose fingers were crossed.

Everyone wants the Performing Arts Centre to succeed.  But wishful thinking serves no one – we need a Centre management that tells city council what they need to hear and not what they think council would like to here.

BPAC has a bit of an operating surplus – require them to use that and if they still don’t have what they need to meet the payroll – welcome to the real world.  Reduce costs.  The Business case suggested that not implementing the additions might result in mice – call the Humane Society and get a couple of cats.

Sometime in the summer a piece of public art will get placed just outside the building.  If what we’re being told is true – it has the potential to be quite something – but is the public going to fully appreciate what Dan Lawrie has chosen to put $37,000 into or will it become part of a joke that is attached to a building we can’t afford.

Burlington needs what the building is all about – but Burlington also needs efficiency and prudence with what public money is spent on.  Have we not learned the pier lesson yet?

Last time around, in 2012  when Executive Director Brenda Heatherington was asking for $624,814 she told a council committee that they were able to balance their 2011 $1.65 million budget.

Ward 3 Councillor John Taylor responded – “that’s music to my ears” and went on to add that “If you do that this year, you will have exceeded my expectations.”  Expect the sound of clashing symbols and beating drums from Taylor, who has never felt the place would pay for itself, when the request to cover the 2012 shortfall gets discussed at council committee the week of February 4th.

Councillor Lancaster will bring more than a pretty face to the budget committee meting when BPAC explains why they need the cool million they are asking for.  Lancaster didn’t think the city was getting value for the $71,000 the Centre wanted in 2012 to hire a fund-raising person.

At the 2012 meeting Councillor Lancaster questioned a sum of $71,000 +  for someone to do fund-raising and sponsorships with the hope that $90,000 would be raised. Lancaster said that her experience was the fund-raiser would bring in two to three times more than they cost.

Ward 4 Councillor Jack Dennison not only does his homework but he tends to be the most direct when it comes to asking the hard questions.  Expect him to bring a bit of a hard edge to the discussion over the close to $1 million BPAC wants for 2013.

Councillor Dennison, who is always tough on the spending side, wanted to know how the BPAC people managed not to include the parking levy, the need for a janitor, the need for someone to clean the plate-glass in their staffing model.  He also wanted to know why they didn’t see the need for  a ‘development associate’ “How did we miss these?, he asked in 2012.

“We had a staffing model set up and that was the staffing model you said you needed and now you’re back looking for additional staff,” he said.

Heatherington explained that “you start a business with the staff you think you need to operate . She added  “they  anticipated adding a position for 2012”.

BPAC projected sponsorship, advertising and fundraising to bring in $250,000 in 2012 – that didn’t happen.

Councillor Dennison commented on the number of “dark nights” which were explained away as staff using the holiday time last year to recover from a very hectic opening schedule.

The BPAC opening events were great.  The McLaughlin Gala cost a fortune but most of the cost was covered by the $400 admission price – to which all the tickets were not sold.  Some had to be given away to fill all the seats.  The Centre and its staff along with the Board were on a bit of a well-earned high.

That allowed them to get what they asked for in 2012 –it will be a different conversation this year.

Keith Strong, the guy that muscled the building of the BPAC and ensured that it came in on time and on budget.  Could have been chair of the Theatre Board – he’d earned it.  He almost single-handedly ensured that Jane McKenna got nominated and then elected at the city’s MPP.  Can he work some of that tough guy stuff on BPAC’s financial practices?

Building the Performing Arts Centre came to $41 million.  A very large part of that cost was raised by the team of people who promoted the idea, raised the funds, oversaw the project and ensured that it came in on time and on budget.  Keith Strong headed up that effort.

The city provided $743,500 in funding in 2011, came back in 2012 to ask for $490,314  – which they said then they needed to cover ongoing program changes for $134,500, which includes $71,200 for a development associate position and $63,300 for building maintenance costs and payment of BPAC’s downtown parking levy.  The parking levy was a contentious issue between the city and the Burlington Theatre Board who at the time didn’t realize everyone in the downtown core paid a parking levy.  In this case it really amount to BPAC asking for money to pay the parking levy and then giving it back to the city to pay the parking levy.

The 2012 BPAC budget was $2,864,000 of which the city was asked to kick in $624,814. That year the city put up 22% of the money needed to run the place.

The 2013 budget is $2,938,165 with the ask amounting to $994,260  – which amounts to 34% .  And these guys don’t pay rent for the space they use.

Mayor Rick Goldring defended BPAC during the 2012 budget debates.  At the time he said: “This is a first-year operation and we want to make sure we create every opportunity for the board and the staff to succeed and I suggest we get out of the way and let them do their job.”

Mayor Goldring is a tireless advocate for the city.  He is out at every event he gets an invitation to attend talking up the city.  That’s part of the job – the harder part is bearing down on small problems before they become big problems – and the BPAC funding request is about to become a big problem.

That was in 2012 – in 2013 the Mayor is reported to have said:  “The reality is this is a new business and it just completed its first full year of operation and it is going to take maybe three years to find the right balance in the community in terms of what Burlington is looking for as far as entertainment and culture,” said Mayor Rick Goldring, who sits on the theatre board.  “Also, it is going to take some time to generate additional rental revenues and reach out to the community and beyond to fill in additional dates.”

Different tone between 2012 and 2013.

Ward 2 Councillor Meed Ward didn’t support all of the 2012 budget request.  Both she and Councillor Dennison moved that portions of the funding request be struck but both were voted down by a majority of council.

We’ve not had a chance to talk to Councillors Craven and Meed Ward.

Heatherington said BPAC would make an effort to find more sources of funding in future.  BPAC got a pass in 2012 – they aren’t going to be as fortunate in 2013.

At some point the Theatre board is going to have to introduce a dose of reality into the way they are funded.  That may take ‘three to four years’. Council can introduce that reality this year by doing their homework, reading the reports and pouring over the numbers.  Their job is not to micro- manage but someone has to look at the problem – the Theatre Board certainly isn’t.

Brenda Heatherington brought a sterling resume to her interview.  She had the reputation and the experience Burlington felt it needed.  Her experience in Alberta has the potential to make BPAC a great place.  However, she  may need some help with the financial management side.

Heatherington came to Burlington with a very impressive resume.  The city took to her and loved the way she bought into the dream. No one knows better than Heatherington just how hard it is to get something like a Performing Arts centre off the ground.  It takes time – and the city has given her some time – she now wants more.

They have missed their targets on rentals to the community despite calling everyone in business who has a telephone and following up on those that expressed even a hint of being interested.  Was the rental projection too optimistic?  Or was the person doing the selling not good enough?  We don’t know.

Sponsorships ad grants have not materialized.  Were the projections unrealistic or did the financial landscape change.  We don’t know.

Who buys tickets to events?  Does BPAC have that data?  If they do – they’re keeping it under their skirts.  When you need financial counseling – and a short fall of $225,000 plus means you need financial counseling – then you open the books and get the help you need.

Has the Board issued a statement on the condition of the organization they oversee?  We’ve not seen one but then we don’t get press releases from BPAC; haven’t had one since we did a piece they didn’t like back in 2011.  Before that piece we had one senior member of BPAC staff saying we were the “best thing that has happened to Burlington in a long time”.   We said the Board was irresponsible then – looks as if they are still irresponsible.

Being a member of the Theatre Board is not a social plum; it is the recognition by the community that we believe the men and woman chosen are capable of identifying the problems when there are problems and then taking the necessary steps to resolve the problems.  We call that good governance.

On two occasions that I can recall while sitting through council committee meetings I have heard city manager Jeff Fielding apologize twice for mistakes that were made.  One of them wasn’t a mistake he made but he apologized nevertheless.  Brenda Heatherington might be well served by going to the city website and watching a responsible manager do what has to be done – manage openly.

BPAC has indicated they expect to need more than was planned for the next number of years.  This is the time to ask the hard questions.


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5 comments to And we thought we were cheeky – all they want is a couple of hundred shy of a cool million. It won’t be as easy for BPAC this time around.

  • Walter Mulkewich

    Your article is unnecessarily harsh on the BPAC Board and the Centre, which, yes, is one of the best things that has happened to Burlington in at least thirty years. The numbers we are seeing are in line with projections in feasibility studies which were fully public and in line with costs associated with community performing arts centres in other municipalities. Remember, 2012 was a start up year.

  • Lawrence Rossi

    The cost was 41 mill. The taxpayers directly and indirectly paid 37 mill. Start adding 1 mill a year as it sits empty and even that will increase over time. One only needs to look at the centres in Toronto, that keep costing many millions to sit empty half the time. My wallet is empty as well, and can’t afford another dime.

  • James Smith

    Let’s don’t be to hasty,
    -How long did it take Stratford or The Shaw to be the magnet they are today?
    -What was the community investment in those institutions and over what time line?
    I’m sure that Stratford would look more like Brantford, & Niagara-on-the-Lake would look more like Welland without these festivals. How many folks plan a day trip to take in the historic beauty of Brantford?
    Oh, right, none as they tore it down!

    According to a new report by the Ontario Arts Council
    Arts/culture tourist spending generated:
    $3.7 billion in GDP province-wide in 2010
    67,000 jobs and $2.4 billion in wages
    $1.7 billion in taxes

    These numbers are nothing to sneer at and we should consider what they represent when we consider further funding of this facility. With the Preforming Arts Centre we are in for a penny in for a pound; the alternative to making a sound investment is to abandon this facility as a white elephant.

    Read the whole story OAC report here:

  • Lawrence Rossi

    I recall an article where the Director said this place would not require tax money to keep it afloat. The funniest part is that they said the community did not use the facility as much as they expected. The same community that didn’t want the PAC in the first place? The build it and they will come approach did not work. I wonder if Ms Heatherington will put up her resignation as collateral if it does not stop bleeding us in two years.

    Council continues to empty our wallets with their failed visions. Time for them to go.

  • Bill Coucher

    Didnt any of our BRILLIANT councillors ask the question at the time of whether it would be self sufficient?
    Most of these facilities are not.