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Study Examining Whether Arts Plaza's Benefits Outweigh Costs

October 27, 1998|MASSIE RITSCH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

THOUSAND OAKS — The Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza cost $86 million, a figure its critics have repeatedly cited to question its grand scale.

Now the Alliance for the Arts boosters group is hoping a Pepperdine University study due in December will prove the plaza's benefits outweigh its costs.

"I think that the city is going to be pleasantly surprised by the positive economic impact that the Civic Arts Plaza has had on the local businesses," said Patricia Moore, the alliance's executive director.

Funded by Pepperdine, the study is exploring the so-called multiplier effect of the arts plaza, considering how its two theaters contribute to the prosperity of other businesses.

The basic question is: What, besides tickets, does a night at the theater entail? A new dress? A dry-cleaned tuxedo? Dinner at a nearby restaurant? A baby sitter for the kids?

If, in fact, the Civic Arts Plaza theaters have increased demand for such goods and services, jobs and tax revenue should have gone up in Thousand Oaks.

Pepperdine economics professor Dean Baim and five students are spending the fall semester on the study.

"We're attempting to find . . . whether the civic arts center is actually retaining money that would otherwise be going someplace else," Baim said.

Patrons at the Civic Arts Plaza will be asked where they live, how much they spent to go to a performance and on what they spent that money.

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Baim said the study will also examine whether the Civic Arts Plaza's income stays in the community.

"If they end up taking the money in from patrons and end up paying a performer who doesn't live in the area, it's not much of an impact," he said.

The arts plaza hosts about 400 performances a year, the majority of which are locally produced. About 270,000 people attend. Ticket sales and fund-raising have covered theater costs since the arts plaza opened in 1994.

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"I don't think anybody builds a performing arts center to make money as a business, any more than you build a library or a museum [for profit]," said Tom Mitze, theater director. "If that's the reason, there wouldn't be a single performing arts center anywhere in the world."

The City Council requested an economic study of the arts plaza not long after its opening, Moore said.

Even without the study, Councilwoman Judy Lazar said she believes the theater complex has benefited Thousand Oaks' economy. But she says that's not its real value.

"Certainly the proof is not in the economic multiplier," Lazar said. "The proof is in the attendance of the facility. It's brought us a tremendous rounding-out of culture in the community."

The alliance, a nonprofit fund-raiser for the arts plaza, will use the findings to solicit corporate donors, Moore said.

"It can be a very powerful fund-raising tool if you can show companies and business prospects why they should support the arts," she said. "They're giving more than a gift to the arts; they're really improving the quality of life in the area."

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Aware of the controversy spawned by the center, Moore said the alliance wanted an outsider to do the study, so no one could claim the results were skewed.

Pepperdine will cover all costs for the study.

"Even though Pepperdine is close by, [it's] . . . far enough away that they would do an objective and independent study," she said.

From his work on similar studies of sports arenas, Baim said he did not know what sort of results to expect from the Thousand Oaks survey.

"The general conclusion you can make is you can't make a general conclusion," he said. "It varies from site to site."

Generally, he added, a less tangible benefit from such venues is a higher profile for the cities in which they are located.

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