The historic Auburn Avenue Theater hosts a full entertainment lineup throughout the year. REPORTER FILE PHOTO

The historic Auburn Avenue Theater hosts a full entertainment lineup throughout the year. REPORTER FILE PHOTO

In city’s mind, the show must go on

Auburn operates theater at a loss, but City leaders say the downtown benefits by having it there

From the start, some Auburn residents have hotly criticized as a waste of money the City of Auburn’s 15-year lease on the Auburn Avenue Theater.

But convinced the theater was in the right place to play a part in the revitalization of the downtown core and poised to become a hot spot for musical performances, musical theater, dance, dramas and comedies, the City signed the lease in 2007.

Since then, the City has managed the theater, producing events like youth and community theater, and bringing in comedy shows and private rentals.

As of today, the City’s lease on the theater is four years from expiring, and the City Council is already looking ahead, pondering what to do when Dec. 31, 2021 comes and goes.

Of critical importance to what City leaders will be evaluating when they make their decision are the theater’s revenues and expenditures, which have steadily risen from 2011 to 2017.

And the numbers show the city does operate the theater at a loss. Since 2011, the theater has generated $1,106,240 in total revenues, with expenditures amounting to $3,323,818, a difference of roughly $2.2 million.

But that’s not the whole story, said Mayor Nancy Backus.

“For municipal government purposes, the Auburn Avenue Theater is not operated as a municipal enterprise fund, meaning it is not expected that it cover all costs,” said Backus. “Expenditures and revenue related to the Auburn Avenue Theater are part of the general fund, and its budget and associated revenue is approved by the Auburn City Council. The Auburn Avenue Theater has exceeded revenue expectations for the last seven years. The council members are given regular updates related to the Auburn Ave Theater.”

No one ever expected the theater to be a direct money maker, she added; they expected it to draw people in and, hopefully, provide a beating heart to the downtown’s moribund nightlife.

The City runs the theater as its own project, paying for Theater Coordinator Jim Kleinbeck and 25 percent of theater supervisor Julie Krueger’s salary, said Daryl Faber, director of Auburn Parks, Arts and Recreation. With the theater drawing an annual 15,000 souls to the downtown, some from outside the city, local businesses like restaurants and coffee shops benefit, too.

“It is estimated an additional $250,000 of local spending is contributed to the Auburn economy,” Faber said in an e-mail. “If more detail is desired, it could be assumed that if we were to ‘shutter the theater,’ the cost of the lease – $77,699 – as well as the majority of the interfund costs – $195,156 – would still have to be paid … or spread over other departments.”

According to Faber, theater lease payments continue to go up about 2 percent a year, and he doesn’t expect that to change much over the next few years. He said theater management has done a good job figuring out various methods for marketing the theater, apart from spendy print.

“When I was a council member and now as mayor, I feel that the Auburn Avenue Theater makes our community a more desirable place to live and work. The Auburn Avenue Theater attracts patrons to Auburn, spurs additional business development, and supports jobs,” Backus said.

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Theater review

Auburn Avenue Theater’s operating numbers between 2011 and 2017.

2011: Total revenues $90,790; total expenditures $448,451

2012: Total revenues $127,583; total expenditures $474,106

2013: Total revenues $129,936; total expenditures $501,816

2014: Total revenues $157,476 total expenditures $511,829

2015: Total revenues $169,147; total expenditures $646,244.

2016: revenues $191,790; total expenditures $640,273

2017: Total revenues $239,518; total expenditures $612,928

Total revenues $1,106,240; total expenditures $3,323,818.

– Source: Auburn City Clerk

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