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DPAC: Nearing completion, questions remain about naming rights and ADF

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The Durham Performing Arts Center is on schedule to be completed by Sept. 21, in time for a mid-winter opening, and it has just announced its first full-scale theater production: Ira David Wood's performance of A Christmas Carol, scheduled for Dec. 5-7.

But despite nearing the finish line of construction and nabbing Wood's popular show—before it resumes its longstanding seasonal run at Raleigh's Memorial Auditorium—several critical questions remain about the $46 million theater: Two of the five major sponsorships of naming rights remain unsold, and the American Dance Festival—a significant and constant factor in DPAC's public aspirations—remains uncommitted to performing there. Meanwhile, the organization's oversight committee is grappling with issues like balancing high-end shows with more affordable ones and setting livable wages for workers.

In a report to the committee, which was discussed at a June 17 meeting, General Manager Bob Klaus announced 50 confirmed shows (not including Wood's three-night stand) for the 2008-09 season. Of those, 38 shows, or three-quarters, are Broadway performances. In a sample report included in the original operating agreement, operator PFM/Nederlander proposed devoting only half of its shows to Broadway, which carry a higher ticket price than concerts and family shows. (By comparison, PFM/Nederlander listed average Broadway tickets at $60, concerts at $55 and family shows at $20.)

Absent from Klaus' report were any dance performances, but Durham Economic Development Director Alan DeLisle insisted that a commitment from the American Dance Festival, which has been mum about performing at the 2,800-seat theater, remains a possibility.

"Assuming everything works out with ADF—and those discussions are going very well—you could have another 20 shows," DeLisle said.

The committee's four members in attendance elected former Durham County Commissioner MaryAnn Black to chair the committee, and Durham Arts Council Executive Director Sherry DeVries to be the vice chair.

A fifth member, Kenneth Lile, was absent. At the beginning of the meeting Tuesday, DeLisle announced that Lile didn't attend in part because he was no longer general manager at the Durham Marriott. DeLisle said that Lile would remain on the committee "until we figure out what his plans are."

DeVries brought up the issue of naming rights, expressing concern that a sponsorship from, say, SunTrust bank, might mean the end of a company's support for other arts in Durham—a worry that other arts community leaders have voiced since DPAC went onto the drawing board.

"You can't rob Peter to pay Paul, in the arts community," she said.

Committee member Donna Sylver responded, "But we can't control SunTrust."

DeVries countered that the agreement would be with the city, and that "at some point, we need to see a report."

DeLisle said the issue was not within the jurisdiction of the committee, which should instead worry about whether the operator is "including the names" of sponsors in the theater's programming. The oversight committee is tasked with observing the enforcement of the city's operating agreement with PFM/Nederlander.

Another issue that surfaced this week is the question of whether all theater employees will earn livable wages.

In his June 16 report to the oversight committee that was discussed at the meeting, Klaus said: "Discussion with City of Durham HR Department has noted that City pays many part-time and seasonal positions an hourly wage less than the defined City Livable Wage."

DeLisle said "I don't think this is correct."

"It sounds like Bob hasn't gotten to the right person yet in the city," he said. "The point is: They have to pay livable wage."

City ordinances require that all contractors doing business with Durham pay their employees livable wages, defined in 2004 as $9.51 per hour.

Meanwhile, Project Manager Chris Krueger reported that construction was "87 percent complete" with the "toughest 10 percent" still ahead. He added that sound and vending equipment had been purchased, "manufactured to the stage," and that the air-conditioning would begin "blasting" on Wednesday, the first of "volumes and volumes" of tests to come.

Or, as DeLisle put it, "The city doesn't want to get to the end of this process and have any surprises."

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