City should keep the keys to Knutzen Family Theatre | Mirror editorial
April 3, 2009 · 10:48 AM
Federal Way should keep the keys to the kingdom — the Knutzen Family Theatre.
Now is the time to prove that an arts facility will thrive in Federal Way. Before building a $50 million performing arts center, perhaps the city can practice for the big game by turning the Knutzen into a performance house that's packed all year long.
The facility is mainly used by Centerstage Theatre, Knutzen Family Theatre Workshop, Aria Dance Company and Ninth Avenue School of Dance. There is also a recital space.
Two proposals have been offered to take management of the Knutzen off the city's hands.
Centerstage Theatre has long sought the reins. The sales pitch: Centerstage's management can save both the city and theater company money. Furthermore, Centerstage has stated that it cannot continue to operate otherwise due to financial distress.
In March, Tacoma Musical Playhouse (TMP) presented a more focused proposal to run the Knutzen. TMP is the largest community theater organization in the Northwest and operates in the black, not in the red. These same business sensibilities would put marketing muscle behind the Knutzen while maximizing the theater through additional programs. Under the proposal, Centerstage's productions would continue.
After TMP suddenly withdrew its proposal this week, two options remain: Let the city maintain management of the Knutzen, or hand over management to Centerstage.
Let's set aside the tit-for-tat and who-said-what. TMP is an established business looking to grow in a struggling economy. TMP's proposal offered a promising boost to the Federal Way arts scene, and even predicted a surplus after the first year. However, TMP was concerned by the prospect of working with Centerstage — concerned enough that it withdrew an otherwise sound proposal.
Despite an independent panel's recommendation that TMP had the better proposal, some Federal Way leaders seemed to ignore that business advice in favor of an emotional decision involving Centerstage. In the panel's review, Centerstage scored much lower than TMP in areas such as financial projections and providing the community with a facility that enhances the arts in Federal Way.
Centerstage delivers quality shows, and the organization's artistic merit deserves recognition. On the other hand, Centerstage owes the city money and has failed to win the confidence of an independent arts panel.
Centerstage receives more money from the city's arts commission than other local groups. Even if grants have become scarce in this limping economy, Centerstage has demonstrated a long-term struggle to successfully self-manage and pay its bills. Centerstage even said that under its management, the Knutzen would operate at a slight loss for the first two years.
The city must see past the emotional components of this debate and focus on the business aspects. If keeping Centerstage afloat is a priority for Federal Way, then city leaders must find a way. Centerstage has demonstrated artistic merit, not financial savvy. The TMP proposal could have been Centerstage's saving grace, rather than a missed opportunity.
The keys must stay in the city's hands until Centerstage finds its financial footing.