Earlier this week, WFAA-Channel 8 reported that the Majestic Theater is losing its operator, Dallas Summer Musicals Management Group, at the end of June, because, look, it's just lost too much money to continue running the designated city landmark. Which isn't necessarily the case: Dallas Summer Musicals president Michael Jenkins tells Unfair Park that the spin-off nonprofit's contract with the city is up and "there's nothing to renew." (DSM Management had a five-year deal with five one-year renewal options, all of which have been used up.) In other words, he says, DSM Management may well continue operating the theater after all. It just depends.
On what? Well, for starters, he says, it depends upon whether or not the city decides to seek requests for proposals (or RFP) from other potential operators. If so, he says, then DSM Management will more than likely submit a new proposal of its own.
"We're very enthusiastic and waiting for the city to tell us if they're gong to put up a RFP," he says. "It's a great house. Historically, it's a one-of-a-kind in the city. Our lease is expired. That's all."
Meanwhile, Maria Munoz-Blanco, director of the city's Office of Cultural Affairs, tells Unfair Park that "this is no time to panic. It's just change. And sometimes change is good. And sometimes it isn't." She does say, however, that the city will indeed begin seeking requests from would-be operators sooner than later. Already, she says, the OCA received two inquiries on Thursday, shortly after the story appeared on Channel 8.
So, what does all of this mean for the Majestic? Some answers after the jump.
DSM's contract comes due just as the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts is set to open in the fall, which Munoz-Blanco acknowledges could steal potential shows from the Majestic's stage. Truth is, she's not sure how the Majestic will compete with the city's other venues once DCPA opens in the fall; that will be something potential operators will have to address, as the city would like to fill the theater with far more events than are currently scheduled.
Indeed, says Jenkins, that's among the issues: When DSM Management took over a decade ago, he says, the Majestic was used just "6 percent" of the year; that number, he insists, is now closer to 70 percent -- with everything from David Byrne, Bill Maher and Bryan Adams shows scheduled for coming weeks to private events for such companies as Neiman Marcus. But, ideally, the Majestic needs to be used "85 to 90 percent of the year," and that's not easy. Nor is it likely to get any easier with the opening of shiny new venues.
Which leads to another issue: the cost of actually putting a show into the Majestic.
For years, folks who've wanted to book dates in the Majestic have complained that it's simply too cost-prohibitive, a result of its being a house dependant upon union labor, so required of any theater that hosts traveling Broadway productions. Munoz-Blanco says that, yes, "We've heard that before too," when asked whether a high price keeps out would-be bookings.
"And that isn't Dallas Summer Musicals' fault," she says. "It's the business model. There are agreements with stage hands and master electricians and musicians' unions. It's how that business operates. There's also Actors' Equity [Association]. It's all combined. A new operator will have to decide what's most advantageous to their operations, and it could be they decide in their business plan they want to work with with unions or not."
Jenkins says DSM Management has been subsidizing the Majestic in recent years with revenue from the Music Hall at Fair Park, which it also operates. But he also says that each year, his group gave away 50 free show -- "and 'free' is the important word," he says -- to so-called emerging arts groups who "could not afford to be there." He says a list of requests has always been submitted to the Office of Cultural Affairs, which would then approve those it considered worthy of the gratis performance space. "We didn't select who used it or not," Jenkins says.
Munoz-Blanco says it costs some $1.2 to $1.3 million annually to operate the Majestic, with some of that money in recent years coming from the Music Hall at Fair Park, which is also managed by DSM Management; Jenkins confirms that his company has been subsidizing the Majestic, where most of the revenue comes from rental revenues and beverage sales during performances, to the tune of some $1 million since taking over.
And so the city will spend the next several months finding someone to take over the Majestic -- even if it just returns to the care of DSM Management. Expect this to become an issue in coming months as proposals come in and offer suggestions about how to run the city's last great movie palace.
"But one good thing about the timing is that this is a slow season, so this gives us time to assess and think of what are the optimal options," Munoz-Blanco says. "We'll also be doing some work on the Majestic: We have to replace the roof and put in new HVAC system, which needs to be done this calendar year, and that will affect bookings. So we'll have to manage all that. The transition may be a few months as we figure out what to do next."
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