Groups call for City of Rochester to slow approval of downtown performing arts center

(Rendering: Labella)

Rochester, N.Y. – Some local organizations are calling on the City of Rochester to slow down approval of a $130 million performing arts center on the old Midtown site. They question a selection process done in secrecy, and whether it can be run without regular injections of taxpayer money.

Geva Theatre Center sent a 14-page letter to Rochester City Council with one question: Whether the performing arts center will benefit the Rochester Broadway Theatre League at the expense of all other arts, and do so with taxpayer money the others don’t get.

Most people buy theater tickets online, and a portion of the fees are kicked back to RBTL. The organization once operated at a loss of $1.2 million. Yet for more than a dozen years, it’s had a surplus; last year, it was $900,000.

“Businesses change. And so there’s a lot of revenue streams that exist today that never used to exist,” said RBTL spokesperson Arnie Rothschild.

The $130 million Golisano Performing Arts Center Complex will get additional revenue from the Midtown garage, which will kick back $2 per car parking for arts center events – plus, rental from retails associated with the 13-story residential tower.

Financial numbers provided to 13WHAM News and the city project a $219,000 surplus the first year.

“We’re going to be generating an operating surplus, and have an endowment, so the city taxpayers will never be on the hook with this building,” said Rothschild.

But Geva, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and other arts groups say City Hall did not properly scrutinize these numbers. Worse, they say, is not supporting a true performing arts center that would have benefited all cultural organizations and not just the one with touring Broadway shows and music.

"If the city is going to invest this money, this land, this effort in creating a new theater on Parcel 5, and that brands us as 'City of the Arts,' that goes a very, very short way towards stabilizing and supporting the arts and cultural sector here in town," said Geva Artistic Director Mark Cuddy.

“They participated in this study,” said City of Rochester Communications Director James Smith. “They study concluded that Parcel 5 is the ideal spot for this development, and that’s why we’re moving forward. And the time for studies is past. The time, now, is to get a shovel in the ground so we can build this incredible project.”

City Council has set a public hearing for this topic on Thursday.

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