Donor cashes out Eccles Center’s debt to school district | ParkRecord.com
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Donor cashes out Eccles Center’s debt to school district

Nan Chalat-Noaker, Record editor

The Labor Day weekend ended in a star-studded night for the Park City Performing Arts Foundation in more ways than one.

As a sold-out Willie Nelson concert at Deer Valley wrapped up the PCPAF’s popular outdoor summer music series, the foundation’s director was able to make an announcement that, a few years ago, seemed an impossibility.

Monday night, PCPAF Director Teri Orr announced that a donor had offered to pay off the balance of the foundation’s commitment to the Park City School District. According to Orr, the $300,000 donation officially closes out the foundation’s $1 million commitment to pay for enhancements to what otherwise might have been an ordinary high school auditorium project.

These days most of those who attend performances at the sophisticated, 1,200-seat Eccles Center at the Park City High School are unaware that, until 1998, PCHS thespians performed in the school cafeteria. School plays, assemblies and even graduations were conducted on a makeshift stage in front cramped crowds craning around the fold-up chairs in front of them to see their youngsters.

In the early 1990s, however, the school district was able to secure a bond to build a new wing. A new auditorium was high on the list of improvements to be included in the project but there was only enough money to build a fairly standard public high school auditorium.

But local arts supporters envisioned a grander project, one suitable for hosting nationally known dance companies, symphonies and full-scale theater productions. So they banded together as a private foundation to raise additional funds to upgrade and enhance the proposed auditorium into a professional theater complete with a mezzanine, high tech sound systems, screening room and a smaller black box theater for more intimate productions.

In 1995, the foundation entered into a long, at times challenging, relationship with the school district in which the foundation would contribute $1 million for the enhancements and, once it was built, would program the space when it wasn’t being used by the district.

When the Eccles Center opened in 1998 residents flocked to the theater and they have been doing so ever since. But according to Orr, there were seasons when the foundation was barely able to make its payments to the school district for the upgrades. "We’ve had some hard, lean times," she admits.

Recognizing the theater’s growing popularity and its value to the community as a whole, the school district agreed to extend its agreement, reducing PCPAF’s twice-yearly payments from $50,000 to $25,000.

Still, Orr said, when added to the expense of booking and presenting quality shows each season, the payments limited the foundation’s ability to expand its programs.

As of this year, Orr estimated the foundation had paid off $700,000 of the $1 million commitment and this week’s $300,000 contribution from an anonymous donor removes a huge financial burden.

According to Orr, the donors and PCPAF board members are hoping the community will match their contribution in order to boost the center’s ongoing student outreach and after school technical training programs.

Orr kicked off the matching fund campaign Monday night and accompanied the plea with "I shared the grass with Willie" pens and donation envelopes. Those efforts were rewarded with checks totaling $35,000.

Also on Monday night, PCPAF revealed the lineup for this season’s performances at the Eccles Center. The season opens with Cyndi Lauper on Sept. 24. Highlights also include Bernadette Peters with the Utah Symphony, Gaelic Storm and John Hiatt. As always, there are a number of eclectic performances which this year include the East Village Opera Company, a Chinese dance company "The Golden Dragons" and a troupe of aerialists called "Streb."

The PCPAF folded up its lawn chairs at Deer Valley after Willie’s bio-diesel bus hit the road again but the staff has already been busy selling tickets to the Lauper concert. Early bird season ticket sales continue through Sept. 15 and regular ticket sales for the new season begin Monday. For the complete list of concert dates log on to ecclescenter.org or call (435)655-3114


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