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Will there be roses?

Our Performing Arts Centre goes

on stage before Council with budget.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON Jan 31st, 2011  – Will they be throwing roses on the stage when the Burlington Performing Arts Centre (BPAC)budget gets debated by city council later this month?   Council members will get a copy of the budget this Friday afternoon and, based on some of the comments made at previous council meetings, the plans may be in for a rough ride.

Ward 3 council member John Taylor was a little antsy last week when he complained about not knowing what the budget was going to look like and how much the deficit was going to amount to for the first year of operation.

The BPAC is an arms length organization, run by a 13 person Board that sets out policy and a staff that runs the place which is scheduled to open this fall.  The city’s role in the operation is to pick up whatever the deficit amounts to – and there will be a deficit the first couple of years.

Former Chair, and now Past Chair, Keith Strong advises that the deficit will be much less than  a million dollars but many suspect it will be higher because there hasn’t been all that much in the way of financial information from the BPAC people.

To date, the BPAC has held a number of open houses which let people see how the construction has proceeded.  Strong points out that the place is “on time and on budget” – something he adds that Burlington hasn’t seen in some time.

Taylor wanted to know what acts and performers have been booked and how much had been spent.  Staff assured Taylor that all would be revealed when the budget and business plan are presented.  Taylor wasn’t satisfied. “Events have to be booked well in advance” said Taylor at a recent meeting – “so they must know what we are going to see in the fall.”   Staff couldn’t add much in the way of information other than to say that the report was “in the works”

Once can’t expect Taylor to be throwing roses on the stage for the BPAC Board’s premier performance before council.  Taylor has never been a big fan of the centre and points to failure after failure of this type of organization.  HECFI in Hamilton is going broke he will tell you and most opf the smaller theatre groups in Burlington don’t like what’ve heard of the cost structure to use the new building.  The fact is that few Executive Directors of new performance Centre’s last much more than a year and a half, but that doesn’t seem to have phased Brenda Heatherington who is beavering away at getting the building completed and planning for the first six months or so of performances.  This is a woman who wears a construction helmet and velvet gloves at the same time.

The completion of the building is, as Strong says “on budget and on time” and one wonders why the Board isn’t being given credit that that achievement – no small feat in Burlington.

Alan Pearson, chair for the current year is pretty aggressive with his comments and he doesn’t have a lot of time for the ‘nay sayers’.  “The train has left the station on this issue” says Pearson.  It is too late for people to carp about whether or not this is a good thing for Burlington, he adds, sounding like a guy who believes everything is under control.  “We are planning a soft opening with a series of low key events that will give the community time to get used to the facility” explains Pearson.  So, it looks as if there isn’t going to be a big budget, boffo event that will cost a fortune and be foisted on a community that is still getting used to the idea that we have a performing arts centre.

Strong says talking about the specifics of performances now is premature.  There s a lot to get done and the public will know all about what is planned when it is appropriate.  Well, it is ‘show business’ and I guess we have to leave it to the people behind the curtains do develop the buzz and create the hype that will result in sold out performances.

This is a new step for Burlington and except for the small kafuffle over which brick to use on the outside of the building – there haven’t been any problems.  We have an Executive Director who has the experience needed to make the place work and a fund raising team that has done exceptionally well with more than $10 million raised to date.  Denise Walker has taken over the fund raising effort for the final drive.  Strong explains that fund raising expenses, which are minimal, get paid with the interest earned on the funds raised and held by the city.   Nothing financially flabby about this organization.  Lean and driven so far.  But Strong grouses that the city pays a miserable 1% – you get the sense that if her were managing the money the return would be a little fatter.

The Board is a pretty hard driving bunch of people.  They meet once a month at 8 am.  With two Council members on the Board Rick Craven, Ward 1 and the Mayor, and one senior city staff member, Steve Zorbas, former city treasurer (so he will know how to count the jelly beans) and now Acting General Manager Infrastructure and Development plus ten other people drawn from the community –  the public interest is certainly well represented.

The Budget and the attendant documents get known on February 14th – Valentine’s Day.  Pearson should perhaps bring chocolates.

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