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Cultural center chief resigns

Consultants hired by Largo officials say the cultural center is not reaching its potential.

By ERIC STIRGUS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 31, 2000


LARGO -- Three months after a consultant's review of the Largo Cultural Center found its staff was not working toward city goals and did not understand the center's mission, Holly Stevens has resigned as manager.

Stevens, who had been in charge of the day-to-day operations of the center since July 1998, left last Wednesday, according to a three-sentence facsimile sent by city Recreation and Parks Director Cathy Santa to the City Commission.

City officials said Stevens' departure was by mutual agreement.

"I think . . . that a different director with a different set of skills might be more advantageous," said City Manager Steven Stanton.

Santa said Stevens "was interested in pursuing other opportunities in the arts field.

"She had never worked in a government setting for the arts and I think she wanted to do something else," Santa said.

Citing ongoing severance negotiations with the city, Stevens, 41, declined to comment Tuesday.

Stevens oversaw the creation of the Celebrate Youth in the Arts program, and the center was praised for attracting "great" attendance to its musicals, according to her annual evaluation last July. The evaluation, written by assistant Recreation and Parks Director Mary Nolen, also praised Stevens for working through changes in staff.

But after revenue from ticket sales did not meet expectations, disappointed city officials paid $16,000 for two consultants to review the center's programs in early December.

Currently, $352,000 of the center's $874,000 annual budget -- or about 40 percent -- comes from Largo taxpayers. City officials believe taxpayer support in the realm of 15 percent to 20 percent for the 333-seat theater near Largo Central Park is more reasonable.

In a 38-page report completed in mid-February, the consultants found the center was not reaching its potential, in part because of a lack of communications among staff members and because Stevens did not understand the goals the commission had for the facility.

"The Largo Center manager, some staff and some volunteers do not understand the Cultural Center's mission," the report said. "The City Commission approved a philosophy for the Largo Cultural Center . . . (and the center's) staff was unable to produce a copy of this document."

There was more.

"The Largo Center manager, staff and volunteers do not all work toward the same goal due to lack of clarity regarding the Cultural Center's mission and how that mission translates into operational objectives," according to the report. "Job descriptions are inaccurate in some cases, and in others, staff routinely performs the assigned tasks of others as a result of vacancies."

Donald Shulman, one of the two consultants who wrote the report, will handle many of Stevens' duties until a replacement is found.

The city is helping reorganize the center to make it more profitable, including encouraging the Eight O'Clock Theatre group to become non-profit and boosting marketing efforts.

Since the cultural center opened in 1996, subscription sales to Eight O'Clock performances have dropped nearly 35 percent from nearly 1,000 to about 650 today.

Before coming to Largo, Stevens was the fine arts ticket manager at Florida State University. Between 1984 and 1989, Stevens was the data systems manager and development research assistant for the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. During her tenure with the organization, Stevens was part of the team responsible for raising $52-million to build the center in downtown Tampa.

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