Concert Hall Projects Update: Kansas City & Richmond – Part 1

The next two organizations in this series of follow-up articles are the Kansas City Symphony and the Richmond Symphony…


Both of these organizations are in a similar position in that neither group is building their new hall under their own power. Instead, the new concert halls being proposed in each city are part of a larger Performing Arts Center complex which will include a new concert hall. As such, each orchestra’s future is inextricably tied into each PAC’s success.

Maintaining A Holding Pattern In Kansas City
In Kansas City, their situation can be best described as a flight which has been placed in a holding circle over its destination. Back in April of 2005, the Kansas City Performing Arts Center board of directors decided to put all plans on hold in order to consider a plan to build a revised version of the PAC in a different location of town. At that time, they said the project would be put on hold for no less than six months.

As it turns out, the board liked the original site best but decided to build two 1,600 seat concert halls instead of the planned 2,200 seat ballet/opera/Broadway hall and the 1,350 seat orchestra hall. The delay in construction and the change in design plans will add another $22 million to the overall price tag of $326 million. To date, the foundation declares they have raised $228.5 million and the revised target date to break ground on the project has been moved to fall, 2006; assuming the KCPAC can raise $45 million by February 1st, 2006.

Although this darkens the immediate future for the Kansas City Symphony, the clouds do have one important thread silver lining. Specifically, the increased seating capacity will move the hall out of the dangerous threshold of being too small for a full sized symphonic orchestra.

According to sources inside the Kansas City Symphony, the management and musicians have been informed of this information and the musicians are particularly pleased at the increase in the size of the proposed concert hall. These changes will undoubtedly incur some acoustical modifications to the sound chamber and perhaps even include the possibility for increased backstage facilities and perhaps some office space for the orchestra administration. Unfortunately, all of that is up in the air for the time being until the KCPAC gets the plan back on track enough to raise those additional funds by February.

Another good point for the orchestra is that even though the opening date for the new hall has been pushed back, they haven’t lost their regular performance venues. That allows them to maintain the audience they have and work on bringing in new patrons once the hall does open.

Kansas City Star music critic, Paul Horsley, took the KCPAF board to task in one of his June, 2005 articles for not including a larger component of artists and musicians offering increased levels of input during the planning stages. Hopefully, one positive outcome from this construction delay will allow the board to rectify that issue.

In Richmond, The Orchestra Is Caught Up In A Game Of Musical Chairs And The Music Just Stopped…
Things for the Richmond Symphony have progressively gone down hill since the last concert hall project update. At that time, the organization was led to believe by the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation (VAPAF) that they would receive a new 1,100 seat concert hall and the larger, multipurpose performance venue would be renovated by 2007.

Since then, the music at the VAPAF has come to an agonizing halt as the foundation’s assets and bank statements has come under intense scrutiny by local community advocate groups and officials from the Richmond City government. In the silence which followed, the orchestra has been caught without a chair.

Based on VAPAF bank records released by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources via a Freedom of Information Act submitted by local community advocates (more on that later in the week), sizeable discrepancies were discovered. Additional problems for VAPAF executive administrators (among them, Michelle Walter, a former Richmond Symphony executive director) developed after public examination of credit card expenditures prompted Richmond mayor, Douglas Wilder, to claim the foundation had been misusing taxpayer funds the city had contributed to the VAPAF.

The resultant media frenzy is still unfolding but the concrete results (or lack of concrete) are nothing but bad news for the Richmond Symphony. Due to the VAPAF’s lack of funds, plans for the new concert hall have been written off for now and even the multipurpose venue renovation is in question as the VAPAF and the Richmond City government clash over property ownership issues.

One of the overriding problems for the orchestra is that the old multipurpose venue, The Carpenter Center, is currently dark and will remain that way for the next two concert seasons. Now that the VAPAF has shelved the plans to build a new concert hall, (the VAPAF did not respond to multiple telephone inquires) the orchestra is left without a primary venue.

The problem began with the design for the new hall. Based on the information the Richmond Symphony’s executive director, David Fisk, provided in previous interviews about the concert hall project, the renovated Carpenter Center was going to be used for pops programming since the new music hall was expected to be the orchestra’s new primary masterworks venue. The other performing arts organizations in town, along with out-of-town shows, would take the majority of dates once used by the orchestra. As such, even if the multipurpose Carpenter Center’s renovation is completed on schedule the orchestra still won’t be able to use it for the same number of masterworks and pops services they used to.

So where will the orchestra perform? Come back tomorrow to find out the answer to that question and to examine additional issues surrounding how the RSO plans to deal with continued artistic and customer service issues while living a nomadic existence throughout the coming years.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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