More than $37 million later and there is a performer on the stage and wine and cheese in the BPAC Family Room.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  October 2, 2011  The opening piece made you feel like taking the missus into your arms and dancing away.  Royal Wood had that ability to create a mood and keep you with him as he performed exquisitely on the keyboard and moved from number to number during the opening performance at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre on Saturday October 1, 2011

The evening the city had been waiting for actually began back in August – on the 20th, when people lined up around the block to buy tickets at the then newly opened box office – the Centre was open for business.  “There were people who brought lawn chairs to sit on that Saturday, while they waited in line”, exclaimed Hilary Sadler, Marketing Manager for the Centre,  who then told the opening night audience that 6500 tickets had been sold in the six weeks since the Centre opened and that there were already several sold out events.  The Centre had a promotion for the early tickets buyers and “when we went to put all the entries into the draw barrel we had to stuff them into the container we had – there was hardly enough room” but Brenda Heatherington was still able to reach in and draw out the name of Robin Summers as the winner

The sound was just a tad too loud for me – but the piano work was exceptional.  Royal Wood has been at a keyboard since the age of four – and it showed.  He has his fan base and there were many of them in the audience Saturday night .  There were also a lot of people who may not have seen themselves as Royal followers –they just wanted to be in the audience opening night. The event wasn’t sold out but the hall was at least four fifths full – with people in the prime box seats as well.

An interesting and somewhat ironic observation.  Two of the people who were on the ground and in the trenches during the very early days of the drive to bring a performing arts centre to Burlington – then city council member Mike Wallace and bookkeeper Deb Tymstra were in the audience.  Mike was in one of the box seats while Tymstra sat with the regular crowd.  Wallace is now the MPP for the city and Tymstra now runs her own bookkeeping business and had to recently announce that Creative Burlington, the organization she ran to promote the arts and create something of a marketing base of those commercial and artistic organizations had to cease operations for lack of funding.  Life at times appears unfair – but Ms Tymstra, the opera is not over until the fat lady sings; you know that.

Royal Wood signing CD's after the first commercial event at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre. They loved him.

Royal Wood moved from number to number and on several occasions you could sense that he was going to let himself go just a bit more and each time he did that – the sound was grand but there was the sense that there was even more voice within this artist.  We have not seen the best of Royal Wood yet.

The piano work touched the very edges of a nice jazz sound and then seemed to get just a little honkey tonk, but Wood always came back to strong, solid keyboard work.

The evening started off with a video on the upcoming programmes which was interesting,  but all that information was in the promotional literature; we were in our comfortable seats and just wanted to get on with the show.  The introduction  ran just a little on the long side as well.  Wood moved from the grand piano (and it indeed is grand) to the microphone where he played his guitar with the back up of three musicians.  From time to time he would engage in light chatter with the audience and we got to see a side of this man that isn’t always noticed.  He talked about teen suicide – not a subject that was sure to endear him to an audience, and said that he didn’t want to be preachy or be “Bono” but he didn’t understand why all teens were not full of life and love and then quietly added that one had to “wait it out .. wait it out.

The concert – more of a performance actually was working towards its last coupe of pieces and when Wood announced that “this will be the last piece this evening” then the sly fox in him added that if the audience insisted he had a couple of others in his bag.   And the audience of course brought him back several times.

During the performance Graham Frampton, Manager, Operations and Facility Sales,  was seen scooting up and down an aisle – whispering a few words into the ears of the technicians handling the sound.  Technically the place works.  The sight lines are perfect and the Main Hall has a comfortable feeling to it – nothing fancy.  Executive Director Brenda Heatherington sat on the edge of her seat for part of the performance – you could almost hear her saying – it’s working.

First two people to enter the theatre with tickets in hand.

Given that this was the first night ever for the Centre, someone sprung for the cost of a wine and cheese reception.  Nice to be able to saunter over to the bar and pick up a glass of wine and then another if you chose and not have to pick up the tab.

People hung around for at least a full hour after the performance, talking in small groups.  Some gathered in the balcony that surrounds the Family room, that is huge lobby area right outside the theatre.  The place works – and it gave Royal Wood, its opening night performer, the “royal” treatment.

Tuesday of this week, the hard financial side of operating the Centre comes before a committee of city council that will receive a report setting out what is left of the $3,439,300 the Centre was given as contingency funds.  There is $74,297 left in that contingency account.

Those behind the development of the Burlington Performing Arts Centre speak regularly about the project being on time and on budget – welcome words to the ears of citizens who have heard nothing but grief about the Pier and, even though a contractor is in place to complete the Pier, there are still many who think the city should have walked away from the project and just blown the whole thing up.


The capital cost for the Burlington Performance Arts Centre has amounted to $37.2 million which includes the close to $3.5 contingency.  The city owns the building and is in the process of completing both a Lease Agreement and a Relationship Agreement with the independent arm’s length Board that governs the Centre.  That Board, a non profit corporation will operate what we know as the Burlington Performing  Arts Centre.  The corporation that oversees the Centre staff and its operations as well as representing the interest of the citizens, is known as the Burlington Theatre Board Inc.

So we have the Theatre Board operating the Performing Arts Centre which is owned by the city.  We will get back to you on how the Theatre Board is organized and what role the average citizen can play in the operation of the Centre.  At the Invitation Only event for the donours Vice Chair Rick Burgess explained very briefly that the role of the Theatre Board was one of oversight for the citizens of the city.

Oversight is certainly in order because the city will be giving the Centre $480,700. each year to go towards the cost of operating the organization.  An additional $262,800 was made available to the Centre as one time funding for the opening year.  The city owns the building and is therefore responsible for the upkeep and maintenance which will require the creation of a reserve fund.

The Relationship Agreement sets out the ability of the Theatre Board to make application for financial assistance through the city’s annual budget process.  The Staff report that is going to Council committee emphasizes that the Centre is not expected to be a fully self-sustaining facility.

There is a program in place; it’s called a Capital Surcharge that has an amount of between $1.00 and $1.50 added to the price of every ticket sold.  That surcharge is shown as a separate line on every ticket sold.  At the moment that surcharge amount to $1.70 (HST snuck in there somewhere).  The surcharge proceeds are divided  on a 50/50 basis between the city and the Centre.

Six thousand five hundred tickets for performances at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre have been sold. More than 550 were used on the first night.

The city’s Corporate Strategic Initiatives run by Allan Magi will have input on the capital plant, which means the building and the things actually attached to it and the stuff that is inside the building is the responsibility of the Centre staff.  Tables, chairs, the seats in the theatre – that kind of thing.

The Lease Agreement (which has yet to be made public) and the Relationship Agreement get a thorough going over at council committee.  The nature of the relationship between the City and the Board has more than enough clauses in it to protect the city.  Try this one on for size.  “The city may terminate this agreement by written notice … in any of the following circumstances and then goes on to list the events that would be defined as a default in the agreement.  But here is the killer: “Notwithstanding any other provision of this Agreement, the city may, in its sole and absolute discretion, terminate this agreement on 20 business days.  The city may exercise such right arbitrarily…”  That’s a pretty tough clause.  The city owns the building and if they don’t like the way things are being done they can cancel the agreement with 20 days’ notice.

The trade mark “Burlington Performing Arts Centre” is owned by the city and is licensed to the Centre.  The Board of the Centre cannot approve an expenditure of more than $1,000,000 until it has been approved by Council

The relationship between the city, the Centre’s Board of Directors and the staff at the Centre have been remarkably positive.  The city has council member, Rick Craven along with the Mayor, sitting on the Board of the non-profit corporation that runs the theatre as well as a staff member; Steve Zorbas, Acting General Manager Development and Infrastructure.

Volunteers are a large part of what makes the Centre work. Patrons will meet friendly ushers like these two gents.

The city provided the telephone system the Centre uses but doesn’t pay the telephone bill.  The city was involved in the setting up of the web site but doesn’t provide ongoing technical support.  The Centre staff will get paid through the city’s payroll service.

Except for a bit of a flap over the bricks that were to be used on the building the project was completed to the satisfaction of just about everyone.  The city took possession of the building from the contractors on September 13th and, believe it or not, there is a one year warranty on the place.

All however, is not sweetness and light between the city and the Theatre and its Board of Directors.  Staff is providing verbal updates at the committee meeting “so that committee members are clear about the few remaining areas of difference between the parties.”

Will it work, can it work?  There are a number of very positive signs that it will work but show business has never been easy and the entertainment business is fickle at the best of times.  Brenda Heatherington and her crew have their work cut out for them as they not only fine tune the building but also get the full measure of the community and figure out what we want and at the same time discern where the community can be taken.

The Board that provides the oversight is going to have to be both vigilant and supportive and give the staff the room they need to develop the business and at the same time be fiscally responsible.  This isn’t an 18 month undertaking; this is a three year exercise at a minimum and the Centre needs to develop a relationship with the citizens of the city that is strong enough to allow that amount of time.  That isn’t going to be the easiest thing to do in a city that had people who wanted the Pier torn down.

And if the Board and the Centre staff can’t do that – well the Centre could become, as one city hall wag put it, an All Elvis location.

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