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City rejects proposal to manage Knutzen Theatre

Federal Way City Council voted Nov. 18 to reject Centerstage Theatre’s proposal to overtake management of the Knutzen Family Theatre.

Instead, the council opted to solicit other management options.

The 234-seat Knutzen Family Theatre, located at Dumas Bay Centre on Dash Point Road, is currently under city management. The theater has struggled to make a profit since 2004. Last June, Centerstage proposed taking over management of the theater in exchange for a $75,000 fee paid by the city to the performance group. The fee would save the city roughly $50,000 by eliminating annual subsidies it grants the theater, Centerstage artistic director Alan Bryce said.

In recent years, the Knutzen has experienced an annual net loss of more than $100,000, according to the theater’s budget found in the Nov. 18 city council meeting agenda. In 2007, it earned $96,384, but spent $222,062 in operating and indirect costs. It suffered a $125,678 loss and was provided a subsidy of $125,495 by the city.

Additionally, Centerstage is typically awarded subsidies to continue its operations. The management agreement would save Centerstage approximately $48,000 in labor and rental of both the theater and personal office space, according to Centerstage’s proposal.

Centerstage would continue to offer the theater for use to local arts groups.

Centerstage would also continue to keep profits from its own performances. The proposal offers a win-win situation, Bryce said at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

But the Federal Way Arts Commission did not see it that way when it voted in October to recommend the city council turn down the proposal. Three members voted in favor of turning over management rights to Centerstage. Six members rejected the proposal.

Financially, the proposal does not appear as though it will benefit the theater or city, arts commissioner Susan Honda said.

“I don’t think anyone was emotional (in considering the vote),” Honda said. “I think we looked at the black and white figures.”

Honda said she voted to turn down Centerstage’s offer because she had not heard any negative feedback about the current management of the Knutzen. The commission met on several occasions to discuss the topic, and each time deliberations lasted more than an hour, she said. The group had the choice of either voting to recommend the proposal, or voting to recommend a $50,000 subsidy for Centerstage.

“We spent a great deal of time on it, and I think we came to a good decision,” Honda said.

Request for proposals

The city council’s decision does not mean this is Centerstage’s last chance to compete for management rights. In January, the council will issue a request for proposal (RFP). Any person or group interested in controlling management operations may submit a proposal for how they plan to do so.

“(The city) has accepted in principal the idea that the theater should be managed by an outside party,” Bryce said. “Centerstage will do everything possible to come up with the most competitive proposal.”

Between now and the beginning of the year, Federal Way will decide what it wants from a management team, said Mary Faber, recreation and cultural services superintendent. Though the city council voted in favor of the RFP process, some members showed a reluctance to enter into any agreement that would relinquish the city’s power of the Knutzen Family Theatre.

“I have some concerns about going down a road that is experimental,” Deputy Mayor Eric Faison said.

Mayor Jack Dovey wanted to know if the city could enter into a year-long working agreement with a management team before issuing a RFP and then handing over the theater completely. City Attorney Pat Richardson said the RFP is needed due to the theater being a public facility.

Because the process is designed to solicit ideas on management options, the final management structure could vary depending on the proposals received, City Manager Neal Beets said. A group may propose a private/public joint management option, for instance.

In February, the city council is expected to pick which proposal will best suit the theater.

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

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