Theatre contract reignites anger over Opera House

October 5, 2013

The Granbury City Council this week approved an amended agreement with Granbury Theatre Company, Inc. – but not before heated words were exchanged.

The terse exchanges about the Theatre Company occurred between Scott Young, president of the Historic Granbury Merchants Association (HGMA) and a board member of the Theatre Company, and council member Tony Allen. Allen voted against the Commercial Lease and Show Producer’s Agreement, citing concerns for taxpayers.

The city has contracted with the Theater Company to handle shows at the historic Granbury Opera House, which is in the final stages of renovation. Though things have run smoothly for several months now, there were many problems and delays in the earlier stages. Costs rose much higher than originally planned.

“I’m not answering to ya’ll – I’m answering to taxpayers. You go out and you knock on doors and everybody says, ‘Why’d you spend 3.4 million dollars?” said Allen. He is running for re-election and has three opponents.

“I’m telling you right now, they’re not happy with us … I don’t believe in putting all of our eggs in one basket, and that’s what we’re doing here tonight,” Allen said.

Tuesday night’s discussion involved a Commercial Lease and Show Producer’s Agreement between the city and the Theatre Company that had been approved by the City Council last November, but never signed by any representatives of the Theatre Company.

Andrew Barrus, head of the Theatre Company, explained from the speaker’s podium that the agreement had not been signed “because of questions from Mr. Allen.”

“We didn’t want to get into a situation where we would be renegotiating on an annual basis,” Barrus said.

For several minutes, discussion centered around the terms of the agreement – in particular, a proposal that the agreement be for a five-year term, with an option to renew for another five years.

Council member Mickey Parson asked about possibly shortening the contract period to three years instead of five. He suggested an automatic renewal clause that would kick in if performances are at two-thirds capacity and it can be shown that the Theatre Company is bringing people to the town square.

In response, Barrus said that the five-year agreement is needed for stability and development. He said that theater companies typically follow a standard of “60 percent development, 40 percent ticket sales.” He noted that performers “don’t take breaks, and we don’t take days off.”

“We believe in stability. We believe in consistency,” Barrus told the council. “It (a five-year commitment) solidifies long-term development for the organization and for the city itself. We’re committed. We’re here. We live in Granbury. We’re from the community, we’re for the community – we believe that is the key to development.”

Council member Laurel Pirkle expressed the view that performances at the Opera House bring people to town, and he believes the city should let the Theater Company “get their feet wet.” He said he favored a five-year agreement.

Allen agreed with Parson on a shorter time frame. He also asked questions about the $3,750 per month rental amount for the Opera House and dormitory facilities and utility payments that will be $1,500 per month in 2014, then $2,000 per month in 2015.

After Allen questioned Barrus about whether mandatory financial information had been provided to the city in a timely manner and whether the Theatre Company has “two sets of books,” Young rose from his seat and replaced Barrus at the microphone.

accusations

Young began his remarks to the council by saying that he could no longer “sit still.” He was calm, but angry. When Allen attempted to interrupt, Young cut him off.

“I’m speaking,” Young said.

Young then stated that issues that have caused taxpayers to be unhappy and which also imposed hardships on the Theatre Company were due to the actions of Allen and “another council member.”

He appeared to be referring to former council member Mitch Tyra, who did not win re-election. Allen and Tyra were in agreement in not accepting the gift of the St. Helen’s building next door to the Opera House for the purpose of expanding the performance venue.

Mayor Pro Tem Nin Hulett also voted against accepting the gift. Allen pointed out that it took three council members to vote it down.

Young was among many who had favored the acquisition and expansion. The fundraising to obtain the St. Helen’s building involved a concerted effort by several local organizations. They packed the council chambers on the night the vote was taken.

Young told Allen that the original price tag of $1.2 million for the renovation had increased threefold because “in that footprint, we had to come up with bathroom facilities and (handicap) accessibility that was not available in that plan.

“Then you tore down the Quonset hut,” he continued, referring to a building behind the Opera House where costumes and other items had been stored. “There was no choice but to misuse taxpayer money, and that was your decision.”

Young added that the $3.4 million cost did not increase the Opera House’s capacity “by one seat.” He also stated that it was due to the council’s actions that the Theatre Company was forced to perform in the building where Granbury Live used to be, which has cost the company $7,000 per month in rent.

“You created this situation, not the Theatre Company – and we need your support so that we can be here long enough to go out and raise funds,” Young told Allen. He said that money needs to be raised not only through individual donors, but through grants and foundations.

“No one’s going to offer help to an organization that only has two years’ stability,” Young stated.

Gary Couch made a motion to approve the amended agreement, and it was seconded by Pirkle. Parson and Hulett voted in favor, with Allen casting the only dissenting vote.

renovation update

Also during the City Council meeting, Opera House project manager Rob Keehn apprised elected officials of progress being made during the final stages of the renovation.

City Manager Wayne McKethan said Wednesday that a grand opening committee is meeting weekly.

McKethan said that a “red carpet” event featuring various dignitaries will take place on Thursday, Dec. 5, with another grand opening for season ticket holders planned for the following night.

The committee is not yet ready to release the list of dignitaries, he said.

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