CLEARWATER — City planners on Jan. 27 revealed three possible operating budgets for the proposed $14.5 million amphitheater with its 4,000 covered seats and a lawn for picnicking concertgoers.
City council members at the Imagine Clearwater update seemed taken aback by the costs prepared by Webb Management, which performs research and planning for concert halls and other entertainment venues.
Webb’s three operating scenarios — labeled “Aggressive,” “Conservative,” and “Minimal” utilization — estimated ticket sales and other revenue against what it will cost to operate the venue. It was the first time the council had seen such a detailed look at what it will cost to run the amphitheater, considered the crown jewel of the re-imagining of Coachman Park, the green space on the banks of the Intracoastal Waterway.
All scenarios assume revenues that include the following: a flat rental fee structure for facility usage, city staff costs, city equipment rental chargebacks and the city keeping all food and beverage proceeds, along with a percentage of ticket revenue.
The bottom line: Though the numbers are not final, taxpayers will still have to kick in more than $2 million a year to operate the amphitheater under each of the three models.
Aggressive utilization estimates the cost of running the amphitheater with 98 event days and 81 concert days. Amphitheater operating expenses: $5.7 million. Total deficit at the end of the year: $2.09 million.
Conservative utilization is based on 58 event days and 45 concert days. Amphitheater operating expenses: $3.8 million. Total deficit: $2.3 million.
Minimal utilization is based on 36 event days and 27 concert days. Operating expenses: $2.8 million. Total deficit: $2.4 million.
City Finance Director Jay Ravins discussed Webb Management’s revenue and expense model with council members. Jim Halios, assistant to the city manager, provided the Beacon with a spread sheet that details the operating expenses in each category.
Under the minimal utilization model, roughly the same number of shows the city presents with its existing stage, it will cost the city $391,500 a year in salaries and benefits for an executive director, technical director, ticketing and IT manager and other full-time personnel. Part-time staff at the new covered amphitheater could cost the city another $138,240, and cost the city another $1.2 million for fire, police, and event staff annually.
Those costs rise as the number of shows in the amphitheater increases: Event staff, technical labor, and public safety personnel could cost the city more than $3 million when the amphitheater reaches 98 event days and 81 concert days.
Though all five council members voiced intention to support events planning under the conservative utilization model of 58 events and 45 concert days, they questioned the accuracy of the numbers.
“I think these numbers are (too low),” Councilmember Jay Polglaze said. “I don’t think those numbers reflect current, accurate, data. I’m going to keep pushing to get more accurate, true data.”
Councilmember Hoyt Hamilton thought the numbers were too detailed. He thought it was too early to know the true costs.
“These numbers are based on a good bet, but are they perfectly accurate? Absolutely not,” Hamilton said. “But 75 percent of the voters in Clearwater said, ‘We want a new plan and a new park.’ We’re doing everything we can to make that park as active and enticing as we can. That takes money; I’m sorry, it does.”
He also asked any council member to raise his hand if he thought the amphitheater would make a profit.
Mayor George Cretekos read from a Feb. 25, 2019, report stating the amphitheater can generate net revenue for the city.
“To me, that means, that we’re going to get a profit, at least not have to subsidize,” Cretekos said.
The council seems willing to let the new council take the project down the road; elections are March 17.
“I don’t think I can make a decision, but that’s OK,” Polglaze said, noting that a new city council will be seated in seven weeks.
Art Kader, interim director of parks and recreation, cautioned the council on high maintenance costs associated with Coachman Commons, the new name for the park. Where now there is just lawn and parking lots, there will be a large recreation area with a redesigned shoreline with lights, a new lake with walking paths, a stainless-steel tower with flame, cascading pools of water, outbuildings, even childhood playground equipment.
“It’s not just this amphitheater, it is the additional maintenance of all the enhancements to the park and including the library,” Kader said. “We have to count what it is going to cost to maintain those. Quite truthfully, unless there’s money made from the amphitheater, the maintenance of all that will have to be subsidized.”
Kader has a committee “to discuss every item that’s going into this park,” he said. “We identify every blade of grass that needs to be cut, every bush that must be maintained, every tree that needs trimmed —and come back to you and present you what it will take to maintain (the park) in a first-class facility.”