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Article updated: 3/12/2013 11:47 AM

Metropolis gets funding from Arlington Hts. for next fiscal year

By Melissa Silverberg

As long as Metropolis Performing Arts Centre gets through the rest of this fiscal year, the nonprofit will receive more financial help from the village of Arlington Heights next year.

The Arlington Heights village board on Monday unanimously recommended approval of the budget for Metropolis, which includes $317,000 in village support for fiscal year 2014, after a lengthy discussion about where the organization has gone wrong in recent years and ideas to bring in more revenue in the future.

Arlington Heights trustees tonight will discuss the village's funding of the theater.

According to budget documents, Metropolis will receive its annual subsidy with a slight increase to $160,000, in addition to $32,000 for equipment replacement.

The downtown Arlington Heights theater also is asking for use of up to $125,000 of reserves from the Arts, Entertainment and Events fund to upgrade its sound system, renovate the second-floor school space, buy a more modern ticketing system and make other technological improvements.

According to budget documents dated Feb. 15, Metropolis estimates it will end fiscal year 2013 with a $385,603 deficit, but through cuts and increased revenue the theater is projecting a balanced budget for fiscal year 2014, which begins May 1.

Executive Director Charlie Beck acknowledged that it has been a difficult year for Metropolis financially, though he said there has been a 20 percent increase in overall audience.

Beck said the theater's main problem has been not living within its means, which will be a primary goal for next year.

Beck himself stopped taking a salary as of Feb. 1 and said he is considering making a donation back to the theater to help get it through the end of this fiscal year.

"It's going to be tight, but we'll make it," he said. "We cannot afford to continue to operate at the level we have in the past."

He added that a new accounting system has given the organization a better look at its exact financial status.

Meanwhile, he said the school portion of Metropolis is doing well, generating revenue and expecting to grow.

Beck described several new ideas for the theater, including trying to bring in a younger crowd, sharing the theater's space with other organizations in town on low-attendance weeknights, or starting a film or lecture series.

In fiscal year 2013, the village subsidy for Metropolis was $155,000, along with $40,300 for equipment replacement.

In October 2011, the village board decided to loan Metropolis $75,000 because the theater was experiencing cash flow problems. During lengthy budget discussions in March 2012, the board voted 5-4 to forgive that loan.

Although the theater has struggled financially, several trustees pointed out that it is an important part of the community both culturally and financially. Beck said the economic impact of Metropolis Performing Arts Centre on Arlington Heights is about $5 million in revenue each year.

Trustee Carol Blackwood encouraged Beck to be flexible with his programming to allow for changes and along with the other trustees had many difficult questions for the theater leadership.

"If these subsidies aren't going to be paid back and things don't improve we will keep going through this spiral and having these conversations every year," Blackwood said. "I want to make sure if I'm going to support this that we are being really, really smart."

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