Mountain Laurel Rebounds

Board members for Pennsylvania’s Mountain Laurel Center for the Performing Arts thought their dreams for the venue — and this summer’s concert season — were slipping away until a March 24th phone call changed everything.

A representative for Governor Ed Rendell informed the board that the state will commit another $250,000 to help keep the cash-strapped facility operating. Then Sen. Charles Lemmond offered to pitch in another $125,000 from the legislature’s “walking around money,” according to The Morning Call.

Venue chief Richard Bryant said the good news wasn’t as down to the wire as it sounded, but it was certainly timely.

“We’d been in discussions with the governor’s office for some time, so we were expecting an answer. We just didn’t know what the answer would be,” Bryant told Pollstar. “It’s a very important endorsement.

“We’re now able to declare that the Mountain Laurel Center is finally going to be ‘born’ after a very long labor, thanks to a lot of people. The piece from the Governor’s office is the capstone.”

In addition to state funding, a local hotel tax will bring in $2.75 million over three years for the arts center.

Mountain Laurel’s season will now kick off in mid-June and run through September with a variety of acts, according to Bryant.

“We’ll be booking pop, contemporary, country, classical, some bluegrass and folk,” he said. “We’re also looking at doing some Broadway-style musicals in the venue.”

The $35 million center, which includes the 10,000-capacity Tom Ridge Pavilion, opened in August 2003 to great fanfare. The facility was to be the summer home of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra until it ran into cash-flow problems. Bryant was brought in as CEO last year to turn things around.

Since then, a long-term plan has been implemented including the hotel tax revenue, state funding and a one-year stay on payment of about $17 million in bonds.

“We have a fascinating venue with 2,500 seats enclosed and an additional 7,500 seats outside that enables you to do some things that are a little bigger. There’s a tremendous amount of opportunity out there for a venue this size,” Bryant said. “We’re very respectful of the immediate challenge now that we’ve gotten what we need.

“If anybody’s got a great act, give me a holler. We’re shopping.”