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PACKARD MUSIC HALL Trustee: Better days are ahead



Published: Sun, May 27, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Wages and fringe benefits make up the bulk of expenses.

By AMANDA C. DAVIS

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

WARREN -- Giving up on Packard Music Hall is not an option at this point, officials say.

The hall, struggling in recent years to make ends meet, has a history in this community, they say, and every effort should be made to give it a future.

That's why the city, Packard Band trustees, the community and representatives from Kent State University Trumbull Campus are making long-term plans.

Seeking a liquor license, applying for federal money, building a box office and establishing a nonprofit foundation are options being discussed.

"I don't think the city can divorce itself from the music hall," Mayor Hank Angelo said. "I think the majority of citizens want to see it as a viable operating entity."

Not giving up: Although the city's subsidy has been waning in recent years, Angelo said he'll oppose any attempt by city council to eliminate funding altogether.

The hall has relied on the city for many years, along with rentals, catering and concession sales.

The city gave $30,327 in 1975; $120,000 in 1985; $216,071 in 1995; $268,158 in 1996; $213,764 in 1997; and $225,500 in 1998.

The subsidy was $115,000 in 1999, $75,000 last year and $75,000 for the first half of this year.

Budget cuts in 2000 forced the city to reduce its share.

Some city council members discussed cutting the hall subsidy this year, to free up money to bring back laid-off police officers and firefighters.

That was avoided when voters approved a 0.5-percent temporary income tax increase May 8 for safety forces.

The city has said it will kick in another $75,000 for the second half of the year if the hall finds a way to reduce the city's annual contribution.

Brainstorming: Community meetings were held to discuss possible uses for the hall, and a consultant was hired to put together a marketing and financial plan.

A state performance audit of the hall is also being prepared.

Jeffrey Gress, a consultant with ArtSpace Design in Newark, said he's looked at 40 theaters this year, all in varying stages of development.

What he found here, he said, is Packard Music Hall has among the best resources to work with, including space, a flexible design, accessibility and ample parking.

Adone "Cal" Calderone, tuba player and executive secretary for the band, said musicians appreciate efforts being made to salvage the hall. He helped organize the Packard Band in 1955.

"We hope they can put something together to save the music hall," he said. "That's our home."

Wages, benefits and utility costs make up the bulk of hall expenses.

No control: Nancy Ruggieri, deputy auditor, said the city has had little control over rising utility costs, wages and fringes.

Other hall expenses are kept to a minimum. "I would say they are very frugal," she said.

Very little has been spent on capital improvements in recent years. Maintenance costs have dropped from $5,556 in 1996 to $500 this year.

That's why the facility looks the way it does, Auditor David Griffing said, noting it's in need of repairs, including upgrades to meet requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Wages and benefits have steadily increased over the years, except when the number of employees was pared by layoffs or extended illness, as in the case of music hall manager Kathleen Thompson who fell ill during during the mid-'90s and died.

Manager Christopher Stephenson makes about $55,000 annually. The staff is rounded out by assistant manager Cherie Celedonia and a custodian.

Expenses: If the hall gets back to full strength next year, wages are expected to be $228,000 and benefits will top $119,000.

The cost of contracted services, including water and sewer, have also steadily increased.

The hall's water bill went from $790 in 1996, to $934 in 1998, to $1,420 in 1999 to $14,343 in 2000. Water costs this year are expected to be $3,500.

Sewer costs in 1996 were $1,321. That jumped to $33,176 by 2000. They're expected to be $5,500 this year.

Officials say the marked increase between 1999 and 2000 for water and sewer is attributed to outdated, faulty water meters.

The city realized the meters were giving inaccurate readings, so new ones were installed and the hall was back-charged.

Packard Park, where the hall sits, was donated to the city in 1911 by the Packard family.

The hall opened in 1955 and leftover money was used to establish a trust for the band, now worth $6 million.

Key Bank Corp. of Cleveland controls the trust, of which a portion is used to pay for professional musicians' rehearsals, performances, administrative costs and marketing.

It was W.D. Packard's intention for the band to perform free concerts.

Terms of the trust changed in 1998 when a Trumbull County Probate Court ordered that trust money could be used for some hall operations and maintenance.

Revenues have fluctuated in recent years.

Griffing said the city waits until the end of the year to see if the hall's expenses outweigh revenues before transferring some money.

The hall has never been allowed to lapse into the red.

Brighter future: Stephenson said a lack of money and staff has hindered operations, but "we're moving in a positive direction; we're busting our butts here."

The hall is booked most weekends, the slow time being January and summer months.

Packard Music Hall's heyday was in the late 1950s to the 1970s, when John Kenley regularly brought in big-name stars for summer stock theater productions.

The winters featured big bands and other entertainment.

Packard Trustee John Bentz said he's optimistic the hall is again moving in that direction, saying its best days are yet to come.

davis@vindy.com




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