After each side vowed to go it alone, the leaders of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and the organization that presents touring Broadway shows in Orlando are back at the negotiating table.
The renewed negotiations represent a last-ditch effort to avert the possibility that the fledgling arts center could open its doors next year facing competition from an entrenched Broadway presenter for Orlando's limited theater dollars.
Though DPAC's president and top directors had expressed confidence in last month's decision to self-present touring shows, the Orlando Sentinel has learned that several of its most prominent donors — including Disney and the Orlando Magic — objected to the plan.
Executives from Disney and the Magic, both of whom are on the arts center's board of directors, argued strongly that the center should work with Florida Theatrical Association and Broadway Across America, the partnership that has brought shows to the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center for the past 24 years.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who has championed the DPAC project for the past decade, made the same argument. Dyer said that if the arts center presents its own Broadway shows, it assumes the risk of financial losses on shows that fail to attract big crowds. Allowing the Florida Theatrical Association to bring Broadway to the performing arts center eliminates that risk, he said.
"Opening a new center is complex and difficult, and self-presenting makes it more complex," Dyer said Friday. "Presenting, by its very nature, involves risk. I would favor — to the extent possible — off-loading that risk."
Florida Theatrical Association has presented Broadway in Orlando, usually six shows a year, at the city-owned Bob Carr. Through a partnership with the city, profits were divided equally among the city, Florida Theatrical and Broadway Across America. If a Broadway season lost money, the city was protected from incurring a loss — but that's never happened.
When DPAC solicited proposals for presenting Broadway tours after the center opens in fall 2014, Florida Theatrical was the only organization to respond. In mid-December, however, the center's executive board voted to self-present touring shows.
Board chairman Jim Pugh, executive committee member Chuck Steinmetz and president Kathy Ramsberger cited cost savings and research that showed more performing arts centers successfully self-presenting as the rationale. Self-presenting could save DPAC $700,000 a year, they said.
"It's a very profitable business. That's why we're having this conversation," Ramsberger said.
Ron Legler, president of Florida Theatrical Association, almost immediately announced he would seek another venue to continue presenting Broadway shows. Because of his exclusive contract with Broadway Across America — which controls 70 percent of the Broadway touring market — competition from Legler's organization would severely limit the shows available to the new arts center.
According to sources familiar with internal discussions among DPAC leaders, Orlando Magic President Alex Martins tried to convince fellow members of the executive committee that self-presenting Broadway was too financially risky.
Martins also warned that DPAC risked alienating Central Florida's arts community by snubbing Florida Theatrical Association, which shares a portion of its profits with local arts groups. Martins would not comment.
Walt Disney Parks and Resorts senior vice president Kevin Lansberry also recommended DPAC work out a deal with Florida Theatrical Association and Broadway Across America, at least for the first few years of the center's operation.
"As a major contributor to the project, we appreciated the opportunity to share our experiences and perspective," Disney spokesman Bryan Malenius said Tuesday. "We hope DPAC and other interested parties can work out a mutually agreeable solution."
Disney and the Magic are among the center's top donors; Disney pledged $12.5 million, the Magic $10 million.
Pugh and Ramsberger would not characterize the new negotiations as a reaction to concerns from Disney, the Magic and other board members. But they said the talks, in a preliminary stage, were in Orlando's best interests.
"We would be foolish if we didn't have some sense of balance with the community," Pugh said.
Even so, many details remain unresolved, and there's no guarantee the parties will reach an agreement.
While the self-presenting decision was not a negotiating strategy, Pugh said, it has been beneficial for the center as talks resume. "The deal we're negotiating now is a better deal," Pugh said.
Pugh and Ramsberger said they hope to strike a bargain more lucrative for the center than the city's current one-third profit-sharing agreement. Although co-presenting would not be as financially beneficial as self-presenting, they said, there could be other benefits.
Among them: DPAC wouldn't shoulder the risk of losses alone, and the center would gain access to Florida Theatrical's customer base, which could help the center market other events. The center also would have input into which shows come to Orlando.
"We want the ability to be able to pick and choose," Ramsberger said.
Legler and Miles Wilkin, the chief operating officer of Broadway Across America's parent company, Key Brand Entertainment, both declined to comment on the negotiations.
But earlier this week, Legler called competing for theatergoers "a lose-lose situation."
"Competition, they say, is healthy, but I don't think it's going to be healthy for Orlando," Legler said.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times