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O.C. Arts Center Rents at High End of Scale

Finance: Regional groups here pay more than those at similar venues nationwide and famed stages such as N.Y.'s Carnegie Hall.

July 02, 1997|JAN HERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

COSTA MESA — The goal of the Orange County Performing Arts Center is to rival Kennedy and Lincoln centers, its top officials say. In one respect, the center here already surpasses both.

It costs more for the county's major orchestra, the Pacific Symphony, to rent Segerstrom Hall than it costs the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall in Manhattan.

That's on an average night.

On an above-average night, when the Pacific plays to a capacity house at Segerstrom, it might be better off at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall in Washington, D.C.: The rent would be cheaper.

And come September, with the beginning of the 1997-98 season, the Segerstrom rent will go up to finance the building's upkeep.

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For consumers, that will mean slightly higher ticket prices across the board. If the center or its tenants decides to pass on to consumers the entire hike, a $19 ticket to a touring Broadway show would rise by 95 cents; an $85 ticket to the opera would climb by $4.25.

But for the Pacific Symphony and the four other regional organizations that perform or present programs at the 2,994-seat hall--Opera Pacific, the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, the Pacific Chorale and the William Hall Master Chorale--it means paying far more.

The center has long maintained that its fees fall in the middle compared to those at similar halls around the country. New center President Jerry E. Mandel said last week that "in terms of the regionals, we're pretty low on our rent."

The evidence, however, indicates otherwise. In Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Houston, Dallas and Cincinnati, for example, the major orchestras pay much less in rent per concert. (See accompanying chart, F3.)

According to the center, it charges regional groups 10% of ticket sales per event or a flat fee of $2,500, whichever is greater. The flat fee rarely applies, except for rehearsals or modestly priced (as well as free) children's educational programs.

If a classical or pops concert brings in $75,000--"about average for us," says Louis G. Spisto, executive director of the Pacific Symphony and a finalist for the position Mandel now holds--the center collects $7,500. A sold-out concert, which might see receipts of $100,000, would result in a $10,000 rental fee.

"But that's just the beginning," Spisto says. "Everything comes a la carte." As do many venues, the center charges separately for box-office staff, house personnel and technical crews.

Stemming from a 5% surcharge on all ticket sales, the upcoming hike will raise the orchestra's basic cost to $11,250 on an average night and to $15,000 on a sold-out night, Spisto says. Meanwhile, symphonies in other cities are paying less.

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Manhattan's Avery Fisher Hall charges a flat rate of $8,780 per concert, regardless of box-office receipts. "It's our standard booking fee for a one-night rental," says Trudy Dawson, who books the 2,738-seat facility. "It's what we charge the New York Philharmonic and anyone else who plays here."

(The center charged the county's Philharmonic Society $20,000 a night at Segerstrom for two concerts it presented by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra earlier this season. "That's under the old rental fee," society Executive Director Dean Corey says.)

Carnegie Hall, perhaps the world's most celebrated concert venue, also lists a flat rate for all-comers: $8,800 (weekends) and $7,700 (week nights), says Jennifer Wada, director of public relations for the 2,804-seat hall.

The National Symphony pays less on weeknights at the 2,759-seat Kennedy Center Concert Hall: $7,300. On weekends, the fee is $8,500.

"The orchestra is actually part of the center," says Lawrence J. Wilker, president of the Kennedy Center. "All the services we provide for them--fund-raising, staffing, offices, about $2 million in overhead--is not recaptured in the rent."

Kennedy's fees for outside orchestras--$10,850 on weekdays and $12,765 on weekends--are a "more accurate reflection" of what the rent should be to cover the cost, Wilker says.

Closer to home, the Los Angeles Philharmonic will pay $2,360 per concert next season at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, as will other resident organizations, such as the Los Angeles Opera and the Los Angeles Master Chorale, at the 3,201-seat hall. Gordon Jenkins, who books the Chandler for the Music Center Operating Co., says the going rate for nonresident organizations will be a flat $3,500.

The San Francisco Symphony pays $1,000 per concert at 2,743-seat Davies Symphony Hall. Jennifer Norris, the city's booker, says others pay $1,500 against 10% of the ticket sales, capped at $3,500.

When it comes to rehearsal fees, the Orange County Performing Arts Center is also expensive: $2,500 for the regionals and $5,000 for outsiders. Avery Fisher Hall charges $860 per day; Carnegie Hall gets "a small fraction" of the concert fee, Wada says. The Chandler charges resident groups $1,770 and outsiders $2,625.

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