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The AT&T PAC's Chairman of the Board Talks About Mark Nerenhausen's Abrupt "See Ya"

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Howard Hallam, chair of the AT&T Performing Arts Center's board and president of Ben E. Keith Company, tells Unfair Park this afternoon he, like everyone else, was "surprised" when president and CEO Mark Nerenhausen resigned this morning. Maybe, Hallam says, he should have seen it coming: "Looking back," he says, "perhaps I could have seen some hints but didn't realize it at the time."

Hints? What hints? Hallam will not elaborate. He says only Nerenhausen can answer those questions: "I feel like I'd be betraying his point of view, and I hope you can talk to him directly and find out what's on his mind." But for now, he isn't talking. Still, the chairman of the board knows that because Nerenhausen was only on the job since December 2008, and because he offered no detailed why-fors in his terse farewell press release, people will speculate.

"If I had to read between the lines, he's reassessing his career, whether he wants to stay in the performing arts industry and reassessing if he wants to stay in Dallas," Hallam says when pressed. "But I am just speculating."

Hallam does say this: He does not believe Nerenhausen's farewell, abrupt though it may be, has anything to do with the "financial challenges" the AT&T PAC is enduring at present -- and expected to face during its second fiscal year. Still, the timing is curious: The AT&T PAC's current fiscal year ends on Sunday.

Our brief Q&A follows during which Hallam addresses money and other matters.

How did it go down this morning? Did Mark call a meeting ...?

We did not have a full meeting. We had a meeting this morning that included myself and Roger Nanney, who is going to be my successor as chairman of the board, and Mark. It was at my office in Dallas, and after that meeting I called a teleconference with our executive committee and informed them, and then later in the morning I sent an e-mail to the full board informing them.

Were you stunned?

I was surprised. And I hate to see Mark go. He's a good man and a capable administrator.

Did anyone try to talk him out of the decision?

We talked about it, but he was definitive.

As you know, there have long been suggestions that the AT&T Performing Arts Center could use a little money right now. I see, for instance, that Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm is proposing, at least in her latest budget mock-up, cutting the center's reimbursement from $800,000 to $200,000 in the coming fiscal year.

The center is facing some financial challenges. I don't think that's the reason Mark is moving on. When we began this current fiscal year -- which ends next week, on July 31 ... Well, consider: We had the grand opening in October 2009, which means we've had eight months of operations and eight months of income, but 12 months of expenses. We saw from the beginning we'd have a deficit, and we budgeted a deficit. During the capital campaign we set aside money from that to cover this first-year deficit. In fact we forecast a deficit for the second year as well and have set money aside for that. Our cash flow has been as we predicted, and we have money to pay our bills as they come due.

The center is facing those financial challenges, and we will have a deficit this year. I am not prepared to say how much yet. The numbers are not in yet. We just closed Beauty and the Beast this week. That was our own show, and it grossed over $1 million, so we'll make some money on that.

But how is money coming in from the city affecting the PAC?

The last thing that is uncertain -- how much money we may get from the city. The city had promised to reimburse us for utilities and maintenance up to a certain limit, and we just applied for that money, but we don't know what the city will give us. We'll find out in September what they have us in for in the next year. What I am talking about is this year we're now winding up.

What are you hoping for? What's the max amount the city might cover?

It's something like $2.5 million a year. But we did not hit that max amount this year. We applied to the city for about $1.8 million this year, and I hope that 's what we get. That number might not be exact.

So much of the money raised to build the complex came during Bill Lively's tenure as president and CEO. What, ultimately, would you consider Mark's biggest accomplishments during his brief tenure?

There were many, and they were notable. In the first place, he oversaw our grand opening last October, which consisted of weeks' worth of festivities and ribbon-cuttings and receptions and performances and dinners, all of which were successful and concluded with that Spotlight Sunday, which had tens of thousands of people in the Arts District, many for the first time. It was both effective and glamorous. And he oversaw our first-ever season -- so many good shows, Broadway and dance, and lectures and other shows came to the two buildings. And they did reasonably well, especially in view of the economic climate.

Third, Mark represented the center very effectively in the public-relations arena. He appeared before many groups to explain the center and our mission, and I think he was always well-received. He worked closely with the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau and with Philip Jones to pitch Dallas and the PAC to other cities and tourist groups. And Mark was also very effective at City Hall: He raised our visibility and respectability, you might say, in the eyes of the mayor and city manager and city council. And he did a splendid job of reaching out and bringing in to our venues some of the city's smaller and emerging and ethic arts organizations.

So a nationwide search begins immediately?

Roger Nanney will head up our search committee. I am sure we will get a professional recruiting firm to help us look for Mark's replacement.

What will you look for? Because I would expect, given the fact the PAC is open now and the major capital campaign has ended, that the description might be a little different this time around?

We're not looking for anything we weren't looking for in Mark. The same thing -- an executive with experience in the performing arts arena, someone who ran a performing arts center, perhaps in a smaller city, and who can raise money. A person who seems to have a flair for programming and promotion and marketing. For example I'd like to see our center put on some themed programming with the cooperation of other institutions in the Performing Arts Center, and and festivals where performances are built around a theme.

But in the meantime, we have a capable executive to take over in the interim. Doug Curtis [the AT&T PAC's senior veep and general manager] came aboard in '03 as vice president of design and construction and stayed on beyond that and is now our COO, the GM of all operations. And he has done a splendid job at everything he's been asked to do.

Is he in the running for the CEO's gig? It'd save money on a search ...

I don't know at this time.

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