Monday, October 18, 2010

Editorial: Elks' history, future are better than present

I've been writing about the Elks Theatre* and the poor management decisions related to it for many years, so it's no surprise to me that it's in the ditch again.

I was one of the people responsible for convincing the City to take it over from the foundation that had been running it into the ground for a couple of decades, and I don't regret that decision. Unfortunately the City stopped listening to us after the first line of the pitch, and didn't absorb the intelligence we presented: that once acquired, in order to be viable and work as an asset to the City, it would require separation from the general fund and professional management with operational and capital autonomy. We (PAAHC) recommended a nonprofit model in which the City would own the building (bought back for $1) and provide only backup financial security and logistical help, while the nonprofit would handle fundraising, renovations and operations.

Instead the City chose to try to run it alternately like a public department and an ordinary business, applying minimum funding and hamhanded decision-making in both capital and management functions. After several years of operation under the Parks and Rec Department, City Manager Steve Norwood eventually placed it in the hands of his Administrative Services director, former retaurateur Mic Fenech. The results have been predictably disastrous, culminating in the indignities of the past couple of weeks.

I've met and worked with Dawn Castaneda, and while I can't say with any authority whether she was pilfering the cookie jar, I have strong doubts. I've dealt with Mic Fenech, and I know the man is not to be trusted. You can take it from there.

Today's editorial glorifies the ancient history of the building and the recent success in making it a pretty museum piece, while completely glossing over the awful management decisions that have made it a continuing failure as a working City asset. Where is the demand for accountability that we should be able to expect from our only local daily? Heads should roll over this, and the responsibility goes all the way to the top.

Yes, editor, "capable hands" should be running the Elks operation now, as they should have done from the beginning, but you fail to inform your readers on what "capable" means in this case.

A capable management team for a theatre of this size is at least a full-time house manager and a full-time technical director. The house manager runs booking, marketing and audience-related operations. The technical director runs stage operations and plant maintenance. Both are separate and specialized skill sets, perfectly able to get decent pay, so we can't cheap out. We'll also have to give them a capital account and an operational budget to run on their own, and not expect to see anything like break-even for four or five years. With the capital budget they will have to do a lot of serious improvements to the stage facilities and equipment to bring the theatre up to something like modern standards to support today's contract riders, or you can forget seeing professional acts on that stage. The City needs to reduce expectations, be the sugar daddy and just get out of the way while professionals do what they can to clean up the mess the City has been making. Pretty seats do almost nothing for the bottom line, I'm afraid.

This matters to Prescott in general because the theatre could be one of the primary drivers of downtown foot traffic and related spending, as well as a regional draw and quality-of-life asset for all of us. The City has to stop goofing around with it and take it seriously, or put it in the hands of someone who will.

*: Is not, never has been and never could be an opera house.


Anonymous said...

I've met Dawn and my daughter was in her Willy Wonka play. I too have my strong doubts that Dawn was pilfering the cookie jar. She worked insane hours to get to play produced and did many things herself.

I find it ironic that just down the road, the Prescott Fine Arts Theater is constantly busy. The stage is always in use, if not in a show-but in a rehearsal for something or other.

I know several people who work in different departments at the City-they all say the same thing-that management is abusive, some city council members have their special chairs brought over to the library for their 'meetings.' I've heard that the one of the 'hero departments' charges the taxpayer overtime for personal trips to Cabelas and such.

We need to clean house.

Candace McNulty said...

Hey, SA --

Andrew Johnson-Schmit posted this.