Kimmel Center Wrestles Debt

Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts may be in debt and strapped for cash, but venue officials remain upbeat about its future, saying the financial situation will brighten next year.

Kimmel, which opened its doors in 2001, posted a $2.2 million operating deficit for the fiscal year ended June 30th. The venue recently froze salaries, eliminated 12 positions – about 11 percent of its staff – and canceled its Summer Solstice concert series in July and August.

The Broadway series for 2004-05, which included “The King and I,” and Disney’s “On the Record” attracted low interest nationwide including shows at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music, which the Kimmel manages.

But for the upcoming 2005-06 season, Kimmel GM Janice Price says performances like “The Lion King” and “Wicked” are expected to attract larger audiences.

But the major issues for the nonprofit Kimmel are its long-term debt and its less-than-desirable endowment.

“The building was supposed to be fully paid for when the doors opened,” Price said. “Instead, we opened with a $30 million debt – and even with a great interest rate, it’s a problem.”

Only $3 million of that loan has been repaid, and the principal and interest cost the center about $2 million a year. Its endowment, which was expected to be about $50 million when the building opened, is only about half that.

The Kimmel Center isn’t the only one having problems. Other venues, including the The Wang Center in Boston, The Bushnell Center in Connecticut, and the soon-to-open Miami Performing Arts Center are also facing financial difficulties.

Kimmel has cut expenses and consistently increased its earned income from such things as rent from resident companies and outside groups. And since the venue started doing its own ticketing and program books instead of using outside services like Ticketmaster and Playbill, there has been a considerable increase in subscriptions for the coming season, Price said.

Officials are working to raise $90 million to build an endowment and pay down debt.

“We feel very positive and optimistic, though people wonder why,” Price said with a laugh. “We feel really good about the operating part of the business. It’s just that we’re spending so much of our time and energy on financial issues.”