Hippo Manchester
September 29, 2005

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Publisher's Note: A crucial stage
by Jody Reese

Hereís a great idea: Create a much-needed performing arts center in Manchester. Hereís a bad idea: After building it, turn the keys over to a professional management company.

Why is this a bad idea?

Thereís no question that Manchester needs a modern performing arts facility. If done correctly ó the right size, the right expectations, the right downtown location ó it would be the next step in the city's continued revitalization.

Itís such a good idea that thereís already movement behind the scenes to line up the support and financing to make the project happen. Thatís fine.

But if planners donít use caution at this stage, we may end up with something that would be a big problem for the city, even before one brick is put into place.

Some backers of a performing arts center in Manchester believe the way to go is to copy the Verizon Arena: get the thing built, then turn it over to professional management to handle all the bookings and operating deals, with the emphasis on making money.

If thatís the approach, what Manchester is likely to get is a large facility of maybe 5,000 seats. Itíll have to be that big to support the big touring show companies and other acts that can't use the Verizon.

And once we open the doors to this, the effect will be hard on the cityís fragile performing arts community, which already must scramble to sell tickets and support itself financially.

What, for instance, will happen to the Palaceís program of shows and events, which help pay the bills to keep the historic downtown theater open? Hard to say, but touring companies with slick shows paying regular visits to Manchester will siphon off a huge chunk of the Palaceís hard-won audience.

And if the Palace suffers, Manchester loses a key community facility used by dozens of local groups and organizations. And in many ways, weíd be less of a city for it.

So is this what we want in a performing arts center? A large-sized facility for bringing in the big commercial shows, making money for a management company, and threatening the health of local performing arts organizations?

Or do we want a center that enhances what weíve already got here? One that adds to Manchester's cultural landscape instead of possibly steamrolling it?

Itís something to think about before we go too far with the behind-the-scenes plans.