Tax dollars at risk in brewing battle over Broadway in Orlando? - FOX 35 News Orlando

Tax dollars at risk in brewing battle over Broadway shows?

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There's a battle brewing over Broadway in Orlando.

The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts has said it will bring in its own Broadway shows, cutting out the third-party group Florida Theatrical Association and leaving the area's longtime Broadway producer out of a job.

"A very few people are making really bad decisions, and it's not healthy for our community," says Ron Legler, whose Florida Theatrical Association has produced Broadway shows at the Bob Carr for 25 years.

"I would say they've done a pretty good job," DPAC Chairman Jim Pugh said of the work of FTA. "But they keep a lot of money that should be going to us."

Pugh's sentiment is the reason DPAC's executive committee voted last month not to use FTA for the new downtown theater.

"I think a minimum of $700,000 or $800,000 a year would go directly into our pocket instead of a middle person that's brokering Broadway production," Pugh said.

Outside of Broadway productions, the decision could affect the tax dollars of Orlando and Orange County residents. No one from DPAC could guarantee to FOX 35 that tax dollars wouldn't be needed to support the Dr. Phillips Center if it struggles financially.

"This community cannot afford the kind of money it's going to take to run that performing arts center if they're not successful," Legler said. "It will be historic the money they need to run it."

Legler explains his group has produced Broadway in Orlando for such a long time because FTA has insulated city taxpayers from risk of failure.

"We pay everything. All expenses," Legler said. "So that money goes in to [Orlando's] coffer, whether we win or lose.

"We could lose a few hundred thousand dollars in that process, but they are paid. There's no risk, and that's how the city has been a successful partner with us. They've never shared one dollar of risk in 25 years."

But Pugh counters: "That's always the question: risk [versus] reward," he said. "And that's true in anything. Keep in mind we're a nonprofit but we're also a business."

The business of Broadway could soon be a competitive one, because Legler vows to continue producing shows in Orlando. He says FTA prefers to bring Broadway to the Dr. Phillips Center but will bring it elsewhere if an agreement can't be reached.

"Competition is good for everybody," DPAC's Operations Chairman Chuck Steinmetz said. "It really doesn't concern us, because we have the facility. Nobody else has the facility we do."

Still, Legler warns against that school of thought.

"When you go to the movies, you don't go to the movie theater. You go to where the movie you want to see is," he said.

"So, you could end up at one of three or four theaters depending on the time you want. You go to see the movie,  or you go see the show. People are going to the titles and [will] go where the Broadway shows are.

"It's not about the building."

Legler does say if FTA and DPAC can reach an agreement before March, Broadway won't have to compete between two venues in Central Florida.

"Competing is a 'lose-lose' for the community, for the taxpayers, for anyone who wanted the performing arts center to be the nucleus of the city," Legler said.

DPAC maintains its confidence in producing its own Broadway shows, which it says must generate 40 percent of the new venue's revenues to stay profitable.

More than $200 million of tax money was invested to build the Dr. Phillips Center across from Orlando City Hall. It's scheduled to open in fall 2014.

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