Bruce Halliday said he is optimistic the Port Theatre can work out an agreement with the city to help cover an operating deficit.
Halliday, the theatre’s general manager, presented a request to city council for $74,000 in immediate funding to help cover a $114,000 deficit and an additional $90,000 to the Port Theatre Society’s annual $454,000 grant to cover increases in operating costs.
The society, which operates the theatre on behalf of the city, also asked for a review of the management agreement to include heating and ventilation systems, elevator inspections, snow removal and more under the city’s purview.
Halliday’s report and request were referred to the parks, recreation and culture staff for a recommendation.
“Council was openly supportive,” Halliday said.
Mayor John Ruttan said while council is sympathetic to the Port Theatre’s situation, it wants more information from Parks, Recreation and Culture prior to making a decision.
He said council must balance the needs of a city-owned building with the burden on taxpayers.
“Is the cost bearable, or is it onerous?” Ruttan said.
Increasing utility costs were one cause of this year’s deficit, as were low ticket sales for the Spotlight Series, performances which the theatre presents.
Those performances, which sometimes have higher artistic merit than commercial, are supported in part through grants from Canadian Heritage that have strict qualification guidelines.
The Canadian Heritage grant enables the Port to bring in shows like the National Ballet of Canada, which offers significant economic impact to the downtown core – the company’s last show saw 210 hotel rooms and 1,000 meals paid for by visiting dancers and crew.
Halliday said the theatre is considering ending Canadian Heritage grants to enable more flexibility in programming. The theatre is also working on partnerships with businesses to share the financial risk of presenting shows – a step further than the current sponsorship model.
“What I’m working on is a deeper relationship,” Halliday said.