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Centerstage seeks the reins from city to manage Knutzen Family Theater

Federal Way’s Centerstage Theater would like to add managerial experience to its resume of live theater skills.

Under the city’s direction and management, the Knutzen Family Theater has been strapped for cash as of late. For the past three years, Centerstage has worked on a proposal to change this scenario by taking over management of the facility, artistic director Alan Bryce said.

Only now is the option being seriously considered.

“It’s just a proposal at this point,” city manager Neal Beets said. “There are more questions than answers right now.”

If the city accepted the proposal, it would pay Centerstage $75,000 annually to manage the venue, allowing the performance group to better fund itself. The proposal would also allow the city to eliminate or decrease annual subsidies for Centerstage and the Knutzen theater.

“We have suggested (the city) save themselves $50,000,” Bryce said.

The theater, built in 1998 and now primarily used by Centerstage and Ninth Avenue Dance, costs the city and Centerstage more than either would prefer. In 2007, the city invested approximately $125,000 into the theater.

In addition, Federal Way annually gives Centerstage money to assist in the group’s operations. In return, Centerstage pays the city $40,000 rent for the building and labor needed to host a live theater showing. In 2007, 23 percent of the group’s expenditures were spent on using the theater, Bryce said.

“It has been clear to Centerstage Theater for the past four years that the current business model with the City of Federal Way does not work,” according to Centerstage’s Knutzen Theater management proposal.

Management overhaul

Centerstage presented the city with two solutions.

The first choice includes providing Centerstage with a grant through the Federal Way Arts Commission, thus allowing it to afford rental and labor costs.

“We don’t think the city should be obliged to keep subsidizing us,” Bryce said.

The grant, estimated to be an annual amount ranging between $40,000 and $45,000, would boost economic prosperity for Centerstage, but would do nothing to ensure the future of the Knutzen Theater.

The second option would relieve debt for both partners, Bryce said. The city would turn management of the theater over to Centerstage at a cost to Federal Way of $75,000. Similar to the Everett Performing Arts Center or the Kirkland Performance Center, Centerstage would manage the Knutzen Theater and hire technical theater support for shows, Bryce said.

The group would work with neighboring arts acts. Whatever dates are not taken for performances by Centerstage would be open for other performances, Bryce said. Centerstage would cease paying rent for the theater and, as is currently the case, would pocket money raised from its own shows.

Holding back

The city would be relieved of managerial duties and save at least $50,000 — the difference between annual subsidies and Centerstage’s proposed management fees, Bryce said. That number is still up for debate, city manager Neal Beets said. Nobody has clearly defined what city revenues would be lost and what expenditures relieved by allowing Centerstage to manage the theater, Beets said.

“We don’t know the net impact on the community or financially yet,” Beets said.

The city has hesitated in handing the theater over to Centerstage in the past because of issues involving fairness and cooperation with other performance groups, according to the proposal. The city has questioned Centerstage’s ability to manage the venue, according to the proposal.

Centerstage is capable of managing the Knutzen and willing to work cooperatively with Federal Way performance groups, Bryce said.

“We are trying to figure out a way to serve the city without asking for more money,” he said.

The future of the Knutzen is unknown as the city has taken steps to pursue a performing arts center. But for now, the theater plays an important part in the community, Bryce said.

“If we want to secure the future of live theater in the city, we all need to work together hand in hand,” Bryce said.

The city may find that contracting services for the Knutzen with another group is more affordable than allowing Centerstage to take over management, Beets said. Much more discussion on the topic is required before any final decisions are made, he said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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