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Orchestra flush - for now

Published October 26, 2005

TAMPA - The Florida Orchestra reported a surplus for the 2005 fiscal year that ended June 30, the board of trustees announced Tuesday night at its annual meeting. With a surplus of $323,789 on operating expenses of $9,115,265, the orchestra was able to "begin to reduce our accumulated deficit," which now stands at just under $2-million, said executive director Leonard Stone.

"Given what the start was, this was a very nice finish," Stone said, referring to the four hurricanes in Florida last fall that caused concert cancellations and depressed ticket sales.

Earned revenue, primarily ticket sales, amounted to 38 percent of orchestra revenue. Contributions from individuals, companies, government and other sources amounted to 61 percent. The average ratio of earned to contributed revenue for U.S. orchestras is more like 45-55.

Less than 1 percent of revenue came from interest from an endowment. The industry average is 5 percent.

The orchestra had deficits in two of the three previous years. Stone said the surplus for 2005 included contributions specified to be spent for events in the current fiscal year.

The orchestra finished in the black in a year when the board and musicians agreed on a new labor contract that boosted musicians' pay by about 5 percent over the previous year.

In other business at the annual meeting, held at the Center Club of Tampa, chairman Jim Strenski of Clearwater was re-elected to the second year of a two-year term. Vice chairman James Gillespie of St. Petersburg is in line to be the next chairman.

This season, which began a month ago, is shaping up as a challenge, because attendance is down at Pasadena Community Church, where the orchestra is playing its St. Petersburg concerts while the Mahaffey Theater is renovated. The church has gone all out to accommodate the orchestra, but concertgoers have been discouraged by factors such as less than ideal sightlines, acoustics and lighting. Ticket sales are hampered by lack of a box office on site.

Saturday's masterworks concert, for example, drew only 900 to the church, several hundred less than might have been expected for a program at the Mahaffey at this time of the year. The program drew about 1,200 Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater and 1,200 Monday at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center in Tampa. Attendance tends to rise in the winter.

The orchestra had projected a 15 percent drop in attendance at Pasadena Community Church, but it is running behind even that. "They're not going to the church like we thought they would," said Jan Hickin, director of marketing and communications. "It will really be a crunch if it continues in this manner."

The orchestra does have some backup support from the city of St. Petersburg, which owns the Mahaffey and doesn't want to see the theater's principal tenant financially hobbled from having to play in an unsatisfactory venue. The city has authorized an expenditure of at least $175,000 to offset the revenue shortfall and costs of performing in the church.

The 1,800-seat Mahaffey is scheduled to reopen March 1, after which the orchestra has six masterworks, three pops and two coffee programs in the theater. "We have an expectation that there will be a spike in the attendance when the building opens up," Stone said.

And if the Mahaffey doesn't reopen on time? "That would be my worst nightmare," Hickin said. "It's certainly nerve-wracking."

[Last modified October 26, 2005, 00:44:15]

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