ST. PETERSBURG — More people are going to more shows at the Mahaffey Theater since Bill Edwards took control of the city-owned venue, but it is still operating at a substantial loss, according to a report to the City Council on Thursday.
Nearly 250,000 people attended the theater in fiscal year 2012-2013, a 30 percent boost over the previous 12 months. The increase was due in part to the Titanic exhibition, which in five months drew 50,000 people, including more than 5,000 local students.
The theater also hosted significantly more daily events (398) than in the prior year (268), according to the presentation.
The most recent number is nearly double what the Mahaffey held in the year before Edwards' management team, Big 3 Entertainment, took over.
The Mahaffey has had 18 events reach capacity during the two seasons under Big 3's control, compared to just six in the two before that.
In 2010-2011, the theater operated at a loss of $1.1 million dollars, a gap made up with a public subsidy. Edwards reduced that to $603,000 in his first year and, now, to $553,150 in his second.
"I can't imagine no subsidy and running a theater," Edwards told council members. "It's a pretty tough job."
Theaters like the Mahaffey, or even much larger ones, are typically supported with public money. On Thursday, the council seemed to accept that.
Member Steve Kornell warned his colleagues against focusing too narrowly on the public cost. He had been more concerned with the frequency and diversity of the programming, but said he was happy with Big 3's results.
"I would like to hear perhaps at the next presentation: what do you see in the future?" Kornell said.
Member Charlie Gerdes also pressed Edwards about future plans. Specifically, he asked when Edwards could suggest a fixed subsidy figure.
Edwards said he would like to add more seats but not before building an in-house kitchen, both additions that would require substantial investments but that could also benefit the theater's bottom line in the long run.
After the meeting, Edwards said that by next year he should have a clear sense of what a permanent, annual subsidy might be.