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The Year in Review, 2011

A year of Re-evaluation and Progress
From Our Board President Bob Inzer

2011 has been, and continues to be, a very eventful year for The Florida Center. To quote a recent Tallahassee Democrat article, "Rumors of the death of Tallahassee's performing arts center have been greatly exaggerated." Let me assure you we have not died, we have not given up, and our Board of Directors remains committed to moving forward with the continued development of The Florida Center. Not only are we still alive, but we are still actively planning and working to make The Florida Center a reality. While 2011 has been a year of revisiting and re-evaluating, it has resulted in a new, more affordable project plan, a revised timeline and a streamlined organization—all necessary in order to continue to move forward in the development process.

Revised Project Plan for The Florida Center
In light of the difficult economic environment, and in response to community concerns, Theatre Projects Consultants (TPC) was retained earlier this year to revisit their 2005 recommendation of a two-venue, $113.7 million facility, to reassess the venues available in the community today, and to present options for decreasing construction and operating costs while still building a facility that meets our community's most pressing needs.

When originally planned in 2005, we were in a very different economic environment than we find ourselves in today. Community growth has slowed and the growth curve for the future is not nearly as steep and promising as it once was. Economic resources available to construct and operate a performing arts center, from both the public and private worlds, are scarcer. At the same time, the need has not diminished. The goal of the Board is to continue to plan for the future so we can build a facility that meets the needs of our community while being sensitive to the economic realities that our community is facing.

The new plan, recommended by TPC and presented to the City and County Commissions in October, is for a one-venue facility of 1,800 seats with an estimated cost of $89 million, in 2014 dollars. The facility would also contain a rehearsal hall and lobby, both that could be used for event and educational programming spaces. The facility would be planned and designed so that additional venues could be added if, and when, demand grows and funding becomes available.

Our Board of Directors believes that the new plan will meet our community's dire need for a large performance hall that will attract and accommodate touring groups, yet be a suitable performance home for our local arts groups, such as the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra, the Tallahassee Ballet and FSU's 7 Days of Opening Nights.

To learn more about the new plan, view the entire TPC report.

Project Funding and Private Fundraising
With the new plan, it will be necessary to revisit and revise the previously adopted funding plan and the timing of our private fundraising efforts. Almost every performing arts center in the United States has been built with a combination of public and private funds. To suggest that this facility can be built with solely private dollars is either a way to "kill" the project or a way to ignore history and how these facilities are built and operate. It is essential that a portion of The Florida Center's project costs be included in the sales tax extension funding priorities. These funds are the only major source of public financing for this project.

For us to be successful in having The Florida Center included in the list of projects to be funded by the sales tax extension, we need to demonstrate broad-based community support. There are always more projects than there are resources. The City and County Commissioners will be evaluating the list of projects both in terms of their contribution to the quality of life in our community and the public support they enjoy. It is essential that we work to expand our base of supporters and that this support be visible and vocal. Clearly, those that do not want this facility are not timid about voicing their opinions. Therefore, for us to be successful, we must make sure our voices are heard and that our opinions are counted.

Additionally, while a portion of the project costs will still be funded with private dollars, it is also necessary to reconsider the timing of private fundraising efforts, due to the difficult state of the economy and the postponement of the anticipated date of the sales tax extension.

When The Florida Center began planning for a private fundraising campaign in September 2008, just prior to the government's announcement in November of that year that the U.S. economy was officially in recession, the sales tax referendum was anticipated in 2010 or 2012. Now, the referendum is anticipated for 2014, or possibly even 2016. Additionally, The Florida Center's Board of Directors strategically decided not to actively solicit private donations during the worst of the recession in 2009.

During 2010, The Florida Center did cultivate and solicit major corporations that are either headquartered in Florida, or have a major presence in Florida, to become founding partners by making a $1 million contribution. Without exception, these prospective donors voiced support and interest, but felt the project was too early in its development, the referendum too many years away, and the public dollars too uncertain to make such a commitment and investment, especially with the slow economic recovery. It is simply not feasible for a corporation or grant-making foundation to make legally binding pledges or gifts with these uncertainties and contingencies.

As such, our Board of Directors has decided to suspend a major gift, private fundraising campaign until after the passage of the sales tax extension and inclusion of The Florida Center in the funding priorities. We are in discussions with our elected officials about revisions to our funding and fundraising plans. Recognizing that our fundraising campaign has been postponed, we, as a Board, have had to make some difficult decisions about our funding and operations. Read the October letter to Commissioners for more details.

With the anticipated decrease in funding, we felt it necessary to decrease our operational budget for fiscal year 2012 and regrettably eliminate the CEO position held by Jean Frey. This was a difficult decision, as Jean had been instrumental in all aspects of our planning and operations since being hired and opening our office in 2008. Her leadership, and partnership with the Board, in building an accountable, transparent organization, committed to professional, ethical and responsible practices, has ensured that we are a non-profit deserving of the public trust and the public and private funds with which we are entrusted. Her passion for The Florida Center mission, and dedication to its success, will be missed. We wish her well and look forward to her continuing support as a member and volunteer.

Funding for Capital Cascades Amphitheater
The City and County have undertaken a major renovation to Capital Cascades Park, which will include an amphitheater that will seat 2,000 people on the surrounding grounds. It was determined that for the amphitheater to be successful, it would need a shelter for the stage along with other amenities. The Florida Center Board voted to support the use of up to $1.2 million of the tourist tax funds designated for the performing arts center to fund these improvements. The amphitheater is consistent with our mission of expanding performance space and will provide opportunities, in the very near future, for the community and our children to expand their appreciation for the arts by creating a needed additional venue.

Focus on Public Outreach and Education
The Florida Center Board of Directors believes the main focus of the organization over the next few years should be in the area of public outreach in order to build the needed community support for inclusion in the sales tax extension funding priorities and passage of the referendum. These efforts will also result in continued cultivation of prospective donors who will be able to make contributions as the economy continues to recover, and will continue through the work of the Board's Public Outreach and Education Committees, and community volunteers.

Holiday Gifts and Year-end Giving
As we move forward in the New Year, your support of The Florida Center is more important than ever. I hope you will not only continue to voice your support in public dialogue and to our elected officials, but that you will also consider devoting your time as a Board or volunteer committee member.

Your ongoing financial support is also important. As we enter the holiday season, consider giving a membership to The Florida Center to a family member, friend or loved one, who has an appreciation for the arts. I also hope you will consider a tax deductible, year-end donation. You can do both online at www.theflcenter.org.

It's Our Future
This is a difficult time to talk about the future of our community and to make bold plans. Many of us are still reeling from the recession that has impacted our real estate values, income and confidence. However, if we reflect back on history, we learn that many of our great national treasures were planned and built during the Great Depression including Hoover Dam, Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, many of our national parks and the Appalachian Trail. So, to those who say this is not the time, I say thank goodness that our forefathers had the wisdom to keep their eye on the future and to believe in this great country. If we do not plan now for the future, we are relegated to living in the past. With your help, we will be successful and will build a performing arts center, and a community, that meets the cultural, educational, and entertainment needs of all our citizens.

Thank you for your past support. With your ongoing support, we look forward to continued progress in Building the Stage for Our Future in 2012.

Believe in the Future. Invest in the Future. Join us in Building the Stage for Our Future.