The RP Fundraising Center opens its 2022-23 entertainment season this month as Lakeland City Commissioners decide on an annual budget that would reduce operating costs and prompt programming changes that should attract new audiences .
Now approaching 50 years, the city’s entertainment complex (originally the Lakeland Civic Center, later the Lakeland Center) is gearing up to launch a full season of Broadway musicals, Classic Albums Live performances, comedy shows and major competitive events.
Shows and concerts, already factored into the city’s 2022-23 budget, are expected to face smaller programming in the coming years as the mayor and city commissioners push to reduce the running costs of the center for the multi-purpose center with its 2,200 seat Youkey Theatre, the 8,000+ seat Jenkins Arena and exhibition halls.
PR Funding Center Director Tony Camarillo said he cares about his employees and their work as commissioners prepare to vote on a budget for the center that includes changes to the way shows are produced. Commissioners are due to vote on the city’s 2022-23 budget at a public hearing Thursday evening 6 p.m. at City Hall.
For many years, the center’s entertainment season was based, in part, on RP Funding Center staff producing and promoting shows such as the Broadway series.
“From now on, we have to focus on events that make money,” Camarillo said. “We can no longer afford to produce our own shows.”
Emphasis will be placed on the rental of facilities and the possibility for performers and production companies to assume the risk.
“Turning the center into a rental operation is a goal to help meet a tight budget,” Camarillo said. “Success relies on the artists who rent the facility, then stage and produce [their shows] rather than the center contracts [production] work.”
The funding changes will affect the 45-member staff whose jobs are primarily associated with promoted events, he said.
Two upcoming comedy shows represent the type of events the center is capable of handling, Camarillo said.
A few months ago, the city considered hiring an independent contractor to manage the day-to-day operations of the center complex. After issuing a request for proposal, Mutz said, there were no takers.
Although the city manager’s office projected the city’s grant to operate the center for 2022 to be around $3 million, Camarillo said it would total less than $3 million with its cost-cutting measures. . To meet his projected budget and realize savings, he said he was able to do a number of things, including not hiring for vacant and unfilled positions as well as restructuring staff.
“Staff restructuring savings were $650,000,” he said. “I increased event prices by 5%.”
A key part of planning future events, Camarillo said, is the use of space.
“If it’s used and people are here, we can still get the number,” he said. Other ideas might be stricter, he said, “…and might involve more strategic changes, more conventions and the use of sports teams.”
With continued spending cuts, Camarillo said it could bring numbers below a $2 million grant by 2027.
Mayor Bill Mutz, however, said he favors a financial plan to come to a lower grant sooner, down to $1.5 or $1 million.
“It’s a tough challenge but I can do it,” Camarillo said, “But not until March when the already scheduled season is over.”
Mutz said he would work with Camarillo. “A 6-month delay is absolutely allowed,” Mutz said. “It will take as long to get out of what is [already] program. We just want to see a trendline.
Camarillo said COVID-19 is having an effect on center revenue. “The center suffered a loss of revenue of $2 million during the closure, primarily due to event cancellations or postponed events,” he said.
Another factor affecting ticket sales at the center, he said, was a decline in annual snowbird visitors who attended the shows in large numbers.
“Broadway had 1,000 subscribers; now it’s less than 500,” Camarillo said. “So far, the center has had to bring Broadway here and what we’re doing meets the payment,” he said.
Mutz said he didn’t quite view the Broadway series as a profitable event. “But attracting different audiences is a positive goal,” he said. “We’ll have to have a different ride and a different way of attracting different people,” he said. “How can we start attracting and attracting different groups of people to the center… to attract more often? ” he said. “Attracting Generation Y is more difficult.
Given the city’s priorities for the arts, Mutz said the commission wants the budget to put more emphasis on the mayor’s arts council, more arts presence and arts-centric work downtown. , more statues and more affordable housing.
In the meantime, the curtain must rise for the center’s shows and events. The Broadway Series is still in the budget, at least through March 2023, with four musical theater performances at Youkey Theater: “My Fair Lady,” Dec. 16; “Legally Blonde,” Jan. 8; “A fiddler on the roof”, February 13; and “On your feet!” March 16.
Classic Albums Live bands also return to Youkey Theater, starting with U2’s “The Joshua Tree” on September 22 and then Billy Joel’s “The Stranger” on October 23. Other tribute shows include A Tribute to the Bee Gees, January 6, 2023; The Fab Four – The Ultimate Beatles, January 24, 2023. A Motown with a Twist concert is scheduled for March 7, 2023.
Jenkins Arena events open with Challenge Bull Riding, September 23-24. Another competitive event, Vanguard Fitness Competition, is scheduled for October 28-30. The center is producing a two-hour show of a rescheduled event, “Paw Patrol – The Great Pirate Adventure” on October 19. The Florida Elite Cheer Competition is a returning event on October 22 this year to be held at Jenkins Arena.
To kick off the Christmas season, Cirque Dreams Holidaze performs on November 19. Another holiday favorite, A Christmas Carol, is scheduled for November 27, followed by Ballet Magnificat on December 6.
In addition to live performances, center staff will be busy setting up a variety of fall conventions and expos, including It’s a Deaf Thing Deaf Expo on October 1 and the wedding-themed event Let’s Celebrate Expo. The Solemn Assembly of the church has reserved space for September 27-29.
Funding center employees also prepare convention or exhibition halls for different groups depending on size. The Buckler Arts & Crafts Fair on September 24 and the Keepsakes Scrapbook Convention on November 11-12 will rent space in Sikes Hall. A local organization, the Polk Education Foundation, will be using the exhibit space for its fundraiser for the Stepping Out for Education competition.
Due to high foot traffic in the large ticketing areas and exhibit halls, Camarillo said the buildings will require maintenance for “roof replacement, HVAC and other ongoing maintenance which cost approximately $400,000”.
Camarillo said he was encouraged that Mark Jackson, Central Florida’s Director of Tourism and Sports Marketing, will help defray half of the renovation costs and “will work with us to promote the events.”
For now, Camarillo said he and his team will continue to organize events in the community. He and his employees have a plan to follow to eliminate promoted events after March 2023. He said he sees a way to keep his talent on the payroll or hopefully under contract.
“Once March rolls around, if a promoter wants to bring us an event like Seinfeld, we will,” he said.
“Seinfeld is an example of an act that rented the venue for the show, taking the risks and the monetary rewards,” he said. “Jay Leno, we had to pay for him.” Comedian Jerry Seinfeld performed at the center in 2018.
Camarillo said his more than 20 years working at the convention in Chicago prepared him for the rigors of managing operations for the center’s complex programs that go beyond onstage events.
“If it’s [space] being used and people are here, we can still get the number,” he said. Other ideas might be stricter, he said “and might involve more strategic changes, more conventions and use by sports teams.”
The center’s two sports teams, the Lakeland Magic and the Florida Tropics, are negotiating new deals. The Magic have signed a one-year contract.
“The Tropics attract a larger audience per game,” he said. “We will continue to use the 8,500 seat arena. They see it as an efficient place.
The Tropics also benefit from indoor viewing rights with a commitment of 12 games per year. As of that date, Camarillo said the city expects the Tropics to sign their contract and confirm dates very soon. Naming rights discussions are still ongoing, he said.
Mutz said the city’s requirements don’t disrupt the things teams want to do. “Our goal is to put plans in place for the next six months and see the momentum,” he said.
Camarillo said he views the center’s shows and events as important to benefiting the Lakeland community.
“More conventions and the use of sports teams also benefit restaurants,” he said. “We create about $35 million to $60 million in business.”
Camarillo said he views keeping top entertainment at the center as more than revenue. “We could lose the color and touch of the arts,” he said.