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Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center lays off 20 employees

TAMPA — Judy Lisi says that Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center tried to hold off cutting its staff as long as possible, but finally the downward trend in ticket sales became too much on top of the rest of the economy's problems.

"People are still buying tickets,'' Lisi, president of TBPAC, said Friday, "but now we tend to see more activity in lower-cost ticketing, like the balcony and gallery. People are buying less expensive tickets.''

Typical was Spamalot, which played the center for the second time in March and missed the ticket sales budgeted for the run.

"If it was the old economy, people who had seen it in the past might come and see it again,'' Lisi said. "But in this new economy, they're thinking, 'You know, I'd like to see it again, but I saw it, so I think I'll pass on it.' And that is what I believe happened."

The decline in ticket revenue, combined with sharp reductions in giving to the nonprofit performing arts center, led TBPAC to lay off 20 employees on Thursday. That leaves it with 120 employees, the most of any arts organization in Florida. The savings from the layoffs will be about $800,000.

Other arts organizations have also announced layoffs recently. The Florida Orchestra let three employees go. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York laid off 74. Even the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the richest U.S. orchestra, announced it is laying off 10 staffers.

Lisi said TBPAC's endowment, from which it draws dividend and interest income, was hit hard by the stock market crash. Its value has declined to about $20 million from about $26 million in 2007. She expects donations from corporations, government and individuals to be down 10 percent in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Among the TBPAC layoffs were a pair of staff members familiar to fans of plays in the Shimberg Playhouse, the smallest of the center's five venues and home to edgier productions. They were Karla Hartley, the producing and educational programming manager, who has been a key figure in Shimberg operations for more than a decade; and David Jenkins, a TBPAC marketing manager who was also artistic director of Jobsite Theater, which has been at the Shimberg since 1999. Jenkins said Jobsite would continue to perform there.

Lisi said one of TBPAC's biggest projects, premiering the musical Wonderland, remains on track in spite of the cutbacks. With a $3 million price tag, it is being produced by the center and will open in December as part of the Broadway series.

"We carefully built that plan and production budget,'' she said. "I think the worst thing we could do right now is shortchange that. We're going to give that show what it needs. I think we have to.''

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8716. He blogs at Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.

Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center lays off 20 employees 06/26/09 [Last modified: Friday, June 26, 2009 9:33pm]

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