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9:38 PM Sat, Sept. 22nd

Concerns arise over rates at Elks Opera House

PRESCOTT ­ The city's push to make the Elks Opera House more self-sufficient is apparently conflicting with one of the long-running productions in the theater.

At Tuesday's meeting, Prescott City Council members heard a presentation from Shmaine Posey, the owner/artistic director of the Young Star Musical Theatre, on issues over rates at the Elks.

For the past five years, the Young Star Musical Theatre has staged productions at the Elks, including this year's "Wizard of Oz," and a previous production of "Peter Pan."

Posey told the council that more than 2,000 children have participated in the productions, and about 25,000 schoolchildren have attended.

But she maintained that a recent change in city policy on rates is jeopardizing the future of the productions.

While the theater company has paid about $2,000 for renting the Elks in previous years, Posey said the city has proposed increasing the amount to more than $20,000 for the coming year ­ a "1,000-percent increase."

She added: "We simply cannot afford to rent the theater at these rates."

City officials say the additional fees were necessary to cover the cost of playing host to the Young Star Musical Theatre. In a memo to the City Council, they list a number of violations they attribute to the theater company, such as unauthorized use of the theater on nonscheduled dates; damage or misuse of the theater and its equipment; vandalism; and the need for extensive cleaning.

Administrative Services Director Mic Fenech noted that the city previously had offered the Young Star Musical Theatre a discounted rate. But the recent issues caused the city to revert to its "rack rates," he said.

After taking into consideration all of the various uses, such as rehearsal times, performance days, dressing-room use, and cleaning, the rental cost for the production totaled $20,310.

"We think we're priced really, really fairly," Fenech said, adding that the city has not offered discounted rates to any other groups. "None of them have complained," he said.

City Manager Steve Norwood reported to the council that, during a meeting with Posey on Monday, he offered a 25-percent discount on the city's rack rates. Norwood said Posey countered that with an offer that amounted to a discount of about 75 percent. Norwood told the council, "I can't sit here and recommend a 75-percent discount."

Posey, who disputed the city's claims about the violations, said on Wednesday that the offer had involved paying about $2,500 in rent for performance days, and relocating the rehearsals to another venue. In addition, she said, the theater company would pay the city $1 for every seat occupied.

"I think it's a great offer," Posey said, adding, "I'd love to stay at the Elks. Hopefully, the city will come to the table."

While the council made no decision on the matter this week, Councilwoman Mary Ann Suttles pointed out that the city is working to make the Elks Opera House more profitable. "We're trying to get it to stand alone, so people have to pay a little bit more," she said.

Suttles urged Posey to continue working on the issue. "I hope you can stay in negotiations," she said. "I think what you do is important to the community."

On Wednesday, Posey voiced concerns that Tuesday's discussion focused too much on money, and not on the most important thing: the children. "The whole point is just keeping those kids in the Elks," she said. "That's the main objective."

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com