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The truth about Centerstage

Mayor implies that Centerstage was a burden on the Federal Way taxpayer.

I read Mayor Jim Ferrell’s letter dated Aug. 28: “Passing along rumors without regard for the complete story is counterproductive and only serves to divide our community … it … chips away the relationship built on truth and accuracy the city has maintained over the years …”

I can’t comment on all of his letter, but I can comment on his remarks about Centerstage, where I worked for 14 years.

Mr. Ferrell notes “that helping transition Centerstage to not be dependent on the city coffers was a responsible and good business practice on behalf of the taxpayers. It is a private organization that was receiving funding for the last nine years – last year’s allocation was $100,000. That money will be put to better use.”

His implication being that Centerstage was a burden on the Federal Way taxpayer. Well, Mr. Ferrell, the complete story is as follows.

The year before Centerstage took over management of the Knutzen Family Theatre in 2008, Federal Way taxpayers paid $125,000 to operate the theatre, which, with the exception of Centerstage (and the now-defunct 9th Avenue Dance), was little utilized and the few other performance events were sparsely-attended.

So, on the sensible notion that if you own a theatre, you might as well use it, the city issued a “request for proposals” to manage the Knutzen. In a competitive bidding process, Centerstage won the contract. This is a business model not uncommon in our region: a nonprofit arts organization is hired by a local government to operate a government-owned facility. The Kirkland Performance Center and the Everett Center for the Performing Arts being examples. This is a good practice because the private organization operates more efficiently than government. That was the case here. Centerstage’s fee for the first six years of its management was $75,000 — a 40 percent saving for Federal Way taxpayers.

Mr. Ferrell notes that Centerstage’s fee for the last three years was $100,000. When the contract was being re-negotiated four years ago, Centerstage requested an increase based only on inflation, about $7,000 to $82,000. One of Centerstage’s duties as the manager of the Knutzen was to handle non-artistic rentals, such as the church, which used the Knutzen every Sunday.

The city demanded that it take over those duties since it felt that it would be a more efficient rental agent. Centerstage’s income from those activities was about $25,000 per year, so the city agreed to compensate Centerstage for the loss. The greater part of this non-artistic revenue came from the church rental. When the new contract was in place, the city tripled the church’s rental fee, so the church left and was never replaced. The taxpayer footed the lost $25,000 because of the city’s bungling.

Mr. Ferrell’s implication that Centerstage was “funded” and not a contracted company, like many contracted companies that work with the city, does not sit comfortably. It was a management contract, a business arrangement to manage, maintain and book the Knutzen Family Theatre for the residents of the city. What was funded at Centerstage by the taxpayer, were production costs of shows through the Federal Way Arts Commission, in the amount of about $8,500 per year. Centerstage, for a few years, also received Tourism Enhancement grants, awarded by the city but funded by the state of Washington, not residents of Federal Way.

If $100,000 is such a burden, please remind me, Mr. Ferrell, what was the cost of building the Performing Arts and Event Center? And how much will it cost the taxpayer to operate every year? Of course, it must be said that the cost of operating the PAEC has nothing to do with the termination of Centerstage’s contract. That’s the truth. Right?

Alan Bryce

Former Managing Artistic Director, Centerstage

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