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WARREN Music hall pumps up the volume



Published: Mon, July 18, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The year's second half is usually busy with summer events and repeat users.

WARREN -- W.D. Packard Music Hall is experiencing a 28-percent increase in venue use this year, compared with the first six months of 2004 -- and a corresponding 52-percent increase in revenue.

"We've been busting our cans," hall manager Christopher J. Stephenson said of the five-member full-time staff plus part-time help at the landmark music hall, 1703 Mahoning Ave. N.W.

First-half revenue was $176,645.34 compared with $115,791.03 for the same January-June period a year ago. Event and use days at the hall were 139 so far this year, compared to 108 for the first half of 2004.

The most profitable months were January ($36,364) and February ($39,439); the biggest use of the facility this year has been for events (72 this year; 56 last year) and rehearsals (49 this year; 38 in 2004).

Other days spent doing such things as setting up the building for banquets or theater seating, and loading stage equipment in and out of the building, bring the venue usage increase to 28 percent compared with 2004, the hall manager said.

"The thing that really made the revenue jump was, we've historically been slow the first three or four months. So, we looked to find ways to increase the building's use," Stephenson said. "One thing we hadn't tried was dance competitions."

New idea

The staff reached out with marketing and direct mailings, hoping to lure two or three such events. "We ended up doing eight or nine," he said.

Quite a few of these competitions occurred over two or three days, meaning people were driving in, staying in local facilities and eating in the community's establishments, Stephenson added.

"Once you get bodies in the building, and you are doing food and beverage [concession stand], you do also increase your ancillary revenues," he said.

Most of these dance competitions already are under contract to return next year. "The whole goal was to increase our repeat usage," Stephenson said. "I think the combination of our new events and our typical, repeat events has really paid off."

A business plan was set in motion four years ago, with city council's support, to increase overall music hall revenue and usage. The hall gets a $200,000 to $300,000 annual subsidy from the city and its budget totals $500,000 to $600,000, he said.

"We've done what we said we were going to do," the manager explained. "Our goal was to try and hit 50 percent cost recovery each year. Any business is going to help us recover our fixed costs."

Going beyond

Stephenson noted that 2004 also was a record-breaker for revenue and usage.

"We're way beyond what was normally going on here eight or nine years ago, and that's what the building is for. It was designed as a civic auditorium," he said.

The year's second half is usually busy with summer events and repeat users.

These include the Warren Civic Music concert series, Trumbull Town Hall lecture series, Warren Philharmonic series, Packard band series, and nonprofit banquets and fund-raisers.

"We know what's coming in with those," said Stephenson, hall manager since 1999. The Kent State University graduate has worked at the music hall for 13 years.

Weekends this summer are doing well with banquets, wedding receptions, a gospel concert, outdoor Packard band concerts and other happenings, he added.

Major renovations

The music hall's board in recent years has undertaken some renovations there, including revamping the lobby, adding a ticket office, redoing the band library and board room, sound and lighting improvements, and replacing a stage curtain.

Backstage dressing room renovations are to begin in September.

William Doud Packard (1861-1923) of Packard Automotive Co. and the Packard Motor Car Co. put provisions in his will to keep music playing in Warren. Funds were allocated from a trust to build the music hall, while the remainder was to be used to establish and maintain a band to perform in it.

Warren became the beneficiary after Kathryn Packard, W.D. Packard's wife, died in 1940. Construction began in November 1953 in the 42-acre Packard Park. The hall was dedicated Oct. 15, 1955.

The Packard Trust did not provide funds for hall maintenance, so annual operating costs are covered by hall rental and city subsidies.

There are 2,418 theater-style seats available for staged productions; 1,118 main floor seats and 1,300 balcony seats. There's banquet seating up to 550 on the main floor for catered events. A variety of seating configurations for arena, cabaret, floor and trade shows, and other event-specific combinations available.

Packard Music Hall averages more than 100,000 in attendance each year. It is the site of Broadway touring productions, concerts, ballets, children's programs, theater, corporate meetings, high school graduations, dance recitals and professional wrestling.




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