BSP looks for financial assistance from municipality

Section: 
News

By Barb McKay

The Bluewater Summer Playhouse (BSP) is looking for a financial reprieve from the municipality on its rent debt and would like to become a fixture in the annual tourism or economic development budget.

Jennifer Web and Marilyn Clarke of the BSP appeared in front of the Municipality of Kincardine council during its meeting last Wednesday to make a case for receiving loan forgiveness for $10,000 of the $15,000 the theatre company owes for rent arrears at the Kincardine Centre for the Arts. The BSP would set up a three-year repayment plan for the remainder.

Webb said the professional theatre company is celebrating its 24th season in Kincardine.

“Over the past 24 years we have continued with our mandate to be a tourism attraction and to provide a quality-of-life component to the community.”

Webb said that the theatre attracts patrons from all over Ontario, Michigan and beyond who not only come to enjoy live theatre but also stay in Kincardine hotels, eat in local restaurants and shop downtown. As well, the theatre has provided employment and theatre training to more than 60 students since its inception and hosts a popular annual drama camp for kids.

She said the cost to operate a professional theatre like BSP is approximately $160,000 each year and ticket sales do not come close to covering operating expenses. Grants are extremely limited, she added, and while the business community is generous (donating roughly $26,000 annually), they are inundated with requests for donations. That is why the BSP is looking to the municipality for help.

“We strongly believe the theatre is an important part of the downtown and an important part of the community,” Webb said.

She pointed out that the BSP has not received a community investment grant in recent years and would like to be reconsidered for one. That funding would be put towards rent payments.

“Or, we would like consideration for stable funding through tourism or economic development (budgets),” Clarke said.

Councillor Maureen Couture said she would like to consider the requests, but would like to see a report from municipal staff and audited financial statements from the BSP first to get a clear understanding of what the situation is.

Deputy Mayor Jacqueline Faubert said she would like to see the municipality provide some kind of sustainable funding that would allow the theatre company to get caught up with its finances. She noted that having the visitor information kiosk at the Arts Centre, which the BSP assists with, saves the municipality money.

Councillor Gord Campbell asked if having the kiosk at the Arts Centre helps the BSP to attract patrons. Webb said it certainly makes people more aware of the theatre and does save the company money on publicity materials.

Councillor Laura Haight said she supports the theatre company but has concerns.

“After 24 years you have to wonder, is it something that will continue to run or is it something that will continue to lose money and we’ll be back here in five years with rent in arrears?”

She asked if the theatre company had looked at other ways of bettering its financial situation such as increasing ticket prices or merging with another theatre company. Webb said the BSP is paying off debt incurred years ago and is gradually making headway. She said the theatre has been trimming operating expenses but cannot increase ticket prices significantly.

Haight said it would be difficult to justify to other volunteer-run organizations that the BSP is an economic driver deserving of sustainable funding from the municipality or grants to cover rent and they are not.

“The money itself isn’t a big deal,” she said. “It’s the precedent that we would be setting going forward.”

She said she also would like to see financial records to look at the overall picture.

Municipal staff will bring a report to council at a future meeting.