A profitable performance

Dec. 04, 2013 @ 12:17 PM

A few months ago, when the Durham City Council was debating its lease with the operators of the Durham Performing Arts Center, one council member drew a contrast with the Carolina Theatre.

“Part of the irony for me is to sit here and be focused on how do you divide up an operating profit,” Eugene Brown said. The Herald-Sun’s report on that April meeting went on to say that Brown noted “that as a one-time member of the Carolina Theatre board he’s more accustomed to pondering subsidies for an arts venue’s losses.”

That may have been true in many past years, but this week the theater announced some good news.  In the fiscal year concluded in June, the Carolina  Theatre of Durham Inc. reported a surplus of $68,730 – what a for-profit private business would call, indeed, a profit.

Just a few years ago, as the Durham Performing Arts Center opened, many inside and outside the Carolina Theatre operation worried about the impact of the new venue on the historic theater which had been downtown’s only large performance hall.

But even as the DPAC has exceeded expectations for attendance and for the amount of money it has earned for the city, the Carolina Theatre has creatively and aggressively found its own successful niche.

“We’ve found a combination of programming that works at a level for us,” Bob Nocek, the theater’s president and CEO told The Herald-Sun’s Cliff Bellamy Monday.

“We have made this organization profitable, and we did it while increasing ticket sales, concessions, and rental of the facility,” Nocek said in a post on the theater’s website. “We didn’t get there by postponing improvements or reducing the size of the staff or eliminating programs. In fact, it was just the opposite – we’ve added full-time positions and made many investments in long-neglected infrastructure.”

Those renovations as well as more shows and films and better rental income turned what had been annual losses since 2008 into this past year’s profitable performance.  The $68,730 surplus was the fourth highest in the organization’s 22-year history.

In addition to the improved revenue from operations, the organization received more than $300,000 in case donations in the last fiscal year, for only the second time in its history.

The Carolina Theatre is a landmark in downtown Durham, both for the storied history and for its role as an early example of the community’s efforts to revive a sagging downtown.  It first opened in 1926 as a live-performance venue and later operated as a commercial movie theater until 1977. Its renovation as a live-performance hall and adjoining cinemas in 1994 was one of the first steps in downtown’s renaissance.

To see a venue so important to Durham’s history and identify again turning a profit, with the expectation of more successful seasons to come, is yet another signal of great things happening in Durham.