Council gets details of plans for Lyric

bfortune@herald-leader.comJuly 1, 2009 

The Lyric Theatre business plan work group on Tuesday answered several questions the city has asked about the operation and funding of the theater.

A report presented to the Urban County Council outlined in greater detail how the theater will be used and gave firmer financial figures on what construction will cost and how much the city will have to kick in for operational expenses. The report also addressed parking.

"By having conversations with arts experts and others in the community, we were able to develop more ideas how to use the facility and make it viable and exciting," said Shaye Rabold, the mayor's chief of staff and chairwoman of the work group.

On Thursday, the council will give second reading to a contract for construction at the Lyric. If the contract is approved, work would begin in mid-July and be completed in 14 months.

The group, which has met since March, made several changes to the Lyric Theatre Business Plan, which was prepared by AMS Planning and Research and presented to the council early this year.

At that time, several council members asked for more information about the Lyric's programming, funding and parking before they would approve construction.

"We tried to better articulate the programming potential, among other things," Rabold said.

The group changed the name of the Lyric to the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center to better reflect the mission of the facility.

By presenting a variety of artistic endeavors like music, film and dance, the Lyric will celebrate the cultures of Lexington with an emphasis on African-American heritage.

The Lyric will present 24 arts events annually. Arts groups, private promoters and non-profits can rent the facility and also present entertainment, Rabold said.

The cost of hiring an executive director will be shared by LexArts, for which that person will also work.

Councilman Ed Lane said it was "critical to get a board in place" and an executive director hired.

Construction costs, including hiring a temporary project manager and buying some — not all — necessary equipment, such as lighting and sound systems, will be $6 million. The city will be asked to bond the construction fee and make the debt payment, estimated by acting commissioner of finance Bill O'Mara to be $450,00 annually.

The city will also need to subsidize the Lyric's operating expenses for the first five years, starting with $150,000 the first two years. That amount is projected to decrease with each succeeding year. In addition, maintenance of the city-owned facility will cost about $140,000 a year.

The total cost of the Lyric project since it was initiated in 1993 will amount to $7.2 million, according to the work group's revised figures.

Sources of revenue were revised upward on Tuesday to include $100,000 in presenting sponsorships, $100,000 in general fund-raising and $100,000 in possible naming opportunities for the gallery and possible entertainment series.

Rabold's group identified 150 parking spaces for the Lyric, including 66 on-street spaces and 46 in a shared lot owned by the University of Kentucky.

Rabold said 150 parking spots is the projected number needed for a 550-seat facility.

The work group suggested that the Lyric could present multifaceted themed programming. For example, a jazz series might feature the Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans, an art exhibit depicting African-American musical history, music classes and a film on the role of jazz in American life.

Griffin Van Meter, who lives in the vicinity of the Lyric and is an owner of the popular Al's Bar on North Limestone, predicted the renovated Lyric "will be a catalyst for economic development and revitalization along the Third Street corridor."

"The Lyric will be like Al's Bar, only 10-fold," he said.

Council member Doug Martin asked Everett McCorvey, director of UK's opera company and contributor to the Lyric working group, whether McCorvey thought the Lyric could be self-sustaining.

"It will be a challenge for everyone, but an investment well worth making," McCorvey said.

He said that if corporations see the Lyric as a workable project, "they will come in and support it."

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