The economic downturn that has halted architecture and construction projects across the nation has also caused a slowdown in Long Wharf Theatre’s $50 million move downtown.
The theater announced last Wednesday that it will indefinitely postpone selecting an architecture firm to design its new building at the former Coliseum site in downtown New Haven.
And Long Wharf is not alone in scaling back. Though ticket sales there, as well as at the other two theaters downtown, remain steady, the Yale Repertory Theatre and the Shubert Theater are also in the process of evaluating cost-cutting measures.
Mary Pepe, chair of Long Wharf’s Board of Trustees and Building Committee, said although Long Wharf has already received 37 proposals from architecture firms, the theater will delay the decision-making process while it re-evaluates financial circumstances. It is also searching for a new managing director to fill the post vacated by Joan Channick, who was appointed deputy dean at the School of Drama in February, Pepe added. Channick’s abrupt departure left the building project without a manager to oversee its progress through difficult times.
“We did our feasibility study for the project prior to any turns in the economy, so we are planning to do a little work on that,” Pepe said. “We’re still trying to figure out how we will be affected.”
Long Wharf’s lease at its current location will end in 2012, which was the projected date for its move downtown. Under the circumstances, they are negotiating an extension of their lease, Pepe said
She added that while ticket sales are doing well, the theater is anticipating a decline in donations.
$30 million of Long Wharf’s project for the move is funded by the state; the rest relies on private funding. So far the state has only granted $750,000 for planning and research purposes. In the meantime, the theater has launched its own capital campaign to cover the rest of the building costs and to raise an additional $15 million to create an endowment, Long Wharf general manager Jamie Gilpatrick said. At this point the theater has raised $5.5 million, he said.
Given these figures, it is unclear when the theater will be able to complete the project, he said.
“We don’t have specific dates yet,” Gilpatrick said. “We are moving forward with the pieces of the puzzle.”
Though other theaters downtown are not in the middle of large-scale projects, the economic downturn is still an important factor shaping their plans and decisions.
Victoria Nolan, managing director at the Yale Repertory Theatre and deputy dean of the Yale School of Drama, said the delay in Long Wharf’s move did not surprise her and she saw it as a prudent decision that gives everyone more confidence.
While she said the Rep is doing “fantastic” in terms of ticket sales, she pointed out that more than half of the theater’s revenue comes from ‘elsewhere,’ such as the University endowment and private contributions.
“And elsewhere is nerve-racking right now,” she said.
Nolan said the theater will scale back production costs for their next season as a response to the financial crisis and in keeping with the budgetary targets outlined in the budget letter University President Levin sent to all departments earlier this month.
“There will be a slight reduction in the number of actors onstage without any sacrifices in quality,” Nolan said. “This will have ramifications in the number of costumes or the number of people working backstage on productions. Our target is to cut from our material budget without any layoffs of staff.”
The Shubert Theater is another downtown theater that boasts stable ticket sales, but expressed uncertainty about private funding for next season.
“We have to work hard to keep sponsorships and corporate funding at the same level; that’s the biggest challenge,” Anthony Lupinacci, director of public relations at the Shubert, said.
He said the Shubert, with an already limited staff of 17 people, was not planning any layoffs.