Metropolis Task Force to review finances, programs

Posted4/26/2013 5:30 AM
  • Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in downtown Arlington Heights.

    Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in downtown Arlington Heights. Daily Herald File Photo

As Metropolis Performing Arts Centre ends what has been a difficult financial year, community members with different areas of expertise have formed a task force to review the struggling organization and make recommendations for its future.

Members of the Metropolis Task Force have experience in arts, theater, financial planning and education, and will start work next week, said member Debbie Smart.

The group will act as volunteer consultants for Metropolis, which is predicted to end this fiscal year April 30 with a deficit -- even after Executive Director Charlie Beck stopped taking a salary in February and revamped the theater's programming schedule midyear.

Smart said Village President Arlene Mulder approached her a few months ago about heading up the task force. She said she's had a lot of interest from residents since then.

"This is just citizens of Arlington Heights wanting to help Metropolis in some way," Smart said.

The group will do a total review of the operation, including staff interviews and investigating the finances, budgeting, programming, marketing and strategic planning for the Metropolis school and theater.

At the end of the 90-day review, the task force will give the Metropolis board of directors a white paper of its findings and recommendations.

During budget meetings in February, Metropolis was predicted to end the fiscal year with a $300,000 deficit, but officials said the past six weeks have shown some improvement in ticket sales.

According to the 2011-2012 annual report, the most recent document available, $1.4 million of the $3.1 million in revenue at Metropolis came from ticket sales, while just under $1 million came from contributed support, including village funding, special events, sponsorships and fundraising. Other income sources include investments and tuition from the school.

For fiscal year 2014, which begins May 1, Metropolis will receive its annual village subsidy of $160,000, in addition to $32,000 for equipment replacement. Metropolis also will use up to $125,000 of reserves from the village's 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.

The village contributions to Metropolis come from restaurant sales taxes, not property tax, village officials say.

Other members of the task force are: Toni Higgins-Thrash, chairman of the village art commission; Scott DeLaney, an art commissioner with experience in marketing and image consulting; Diana Chrissis, member of the Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 board; Mary Ellen Riley, who works on programming and planning at Harper College; Scott Mitchell, of Mitchell's Jewelers in downtown Arlington Heights; Nancy McLaughlin, a financial employee at GE Capital; Gary Gephart, an assistant vice president at Northshore University HealthSystem; and Smart, a member of both the art commission and the Arlington Heights Memorial Library Board.

"Metropolis is struggling in some aspects, I don't think anyone is disagreeing with that, but instead of sitting on the sidelines and watching it continue, we're going to roll up our sleeves and help," Smart said.

Beck, who was brought on to lead Metropolis at the end of 2011, said he is excited to hear the group's findings.

"I think it's terrific that a group of citizens has come forward and expressed a desire to help us," Beck said. "I'm of the opinion that two heads are always better than one, so I'm looking forward to working with them."

Metropolis revenues have lagged during the economic downturn, said board President Joseph Lynn, which is why the task force will also look at other suburban theaters to see what Metropolis can do better in the future.

Lynn said it is heartening to see community members who want to help Metropolis during a tough period.

"Any input we can get is great," Lynn said. "There may be something this board hasn't thought of yet. This will be a set of fresh eyes from the outside to help us see things."

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