On November 29, the Artisphere Task Force appointed by the County Manager last April presented its report on the troubled Rosslyn entertainment venue and its recommendations for making it financially viable. At first blush the report seems like a refreshing change from business as usual, as it presents an unvarnished appraisal of the flawed planning that went into the project.
- The report mentions that initial revenue projections, which were premised on better attendance than afforded by the small theaters located in the venue, as well as a “destination” restaurant that proved impossible to operate without a street level entrance, were overly optimistic.
- Operating expenses were estimated at $660,000 when the real cost to run the facility is closer to $1 million per year.
- In a rush to open in 2010, Artisphere began operations without adequate business software, signage or online ticketing.
- The core audience was identified as the twenty-thirty somethings, but the report described that age group as “fickle”. So they didn’t flock to the ‘Sphere. [It could also be that after paying the rent on their apartments in Rosslyn and Clarendon, they didn’t have any disposable income.]
- Extended operating hours made the venue seem deserted, further dampening attendance.
- Finally, the economic downturn delayed major projects in the Rosslyn area that might have attracted tenants interested in patronizing the arts.
To fix these problems, the Task Force proposes to close the facility Monday and Tuesday and operate on a reduced schedule the rest of the week. It wants to replace the failed restaurant with a caterer that serves customers only during performances and events and the retail shop with a studio for an artist-in-residence. It wants to shelve expensive outside paid programming, offering event rentals and performances from local artists instead. Finally the new business plan contemplates establishment of a 501(c)(3) to fundraise for the Artisphere.
The Task Force candidly reports that Artisphere cost taxpayers $2.1 million in FY 2011, or more than $1 million more than originally projected. If its new plan is implemented, the cost to taxpayers will be $2.3 million in FY 2012 and $1.58 million in FY 2013. So what if anything does the new plan purchase taxpayers? According to the Task Force, a reduction of $338,000 in anticipated operating costs next year.
Reducing the exhorbitant cost of operating a boondoggle is not a solution anymore than putting lipstick on a pig. The Artisphere is an extravagance the county can ill afford, considering that the libraries have been underfunded for three years, the schools are over burdened, and social services have been slashed to the bone. What’s needed is an aggressive marketing effort to sell the Task Force plan to a private investor or a foundation that will assume the lease and offload the Artisphere permanently from the county budget.