Financial flexibility drew Civic Theatre to Carmel center

November 19, 2009

The Indianapolis Civic Theatre could take as long as 20 years to pay the $10 million fee it agreed to as part of a deal to relocate to the state-of-the-art Regional Performing Arts Center in Carmel.

Financial flexibility and a 100-year commitment are two factors that made the move to Carmel irresistible, said Pete Anderson, chairman of the theater's board of directors.

"The reality of it is the Carmel opportunity presented the best option for our board," Anderson said.

The community theater company has a roughly $1.5 million budget and a professional support staff. Its present home is on the campus of Marian University northwest of downtown, but its lease with the college expires in 2012.

According to the agreement announced late Tuesday, Civic will open its fall 2011 season in the Carmel's 500-seat theater, which is not yet built. The theater is part of an arts complex that also includes a 1,600-seat concert hall expected to open in late 2010.

Plans for the theater building were not final until Civic signed on as the first resident company, Anderson said. Carmel always planned to construct a 500-seat theater, but the Carmel Redevelopment Commission had not decided whether to add a 200-seat black-box space, which Civic said it would use for more intimate performances.  Anderson said the building also will include offices, classrooms and rehearsal space for Civic's benefit.

"It's fantastic for us," Anderson said.

Actors Theatre of Indiana also plans to call the Regional Performing Arts Center home, but the professional theater company has not yet formalized its deal with the city, said co-founder Cynthia Collins.

“That has been our goal since we arrived here from New York in 2005,” she said.

Collins said she was aware of Civic’s negotiations with the city and is confident there will be plenty of room for both companies. Actors Theatre plans to maintain its office space on West Carmel Drive, and is willing to work with its fellow tenants to coordinate production schedules.

“We’re a pretty flexible company,” Collins said. “We knew we weren’t going to be the only people in there. … The theater has to be constantly active. That’s the key to its success.”

Civic, founded in 1917, is the first Indianapolis-based company to pull up stakes for Carmel's new performing arts center. 

"We will need to consider a name change," Anderson acknowledged. Civic has already started noting that it was incorporated as the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre of Indianapolis.

Carmel first expressed an interest in luring Civic in 2008, Anderson said. Although the theater company extended its agreement with Marian at that point, Anderson said the board did not think the growing college could accommodate its needs for the long term.

Marian spokeswoman Andrea Fagan said the college will look to use its 400-seat theater for educational opportunities and more of its own programs, including a lecture series.

Anderson said the Carmel performing arts center pushed for a deal this fall because the theater building needs to open by early 2011, according to Carmel's agreement with another tenant, a software firm that intends to take office space there.

"They knew we needed a new location," he said. "The timing was perfect."

Civic now has at least two years, possibly longer, to raise money for its new digs. Anderson would not discuss the terms in detail, but he said the organization is not required to make lease payments in 2011.

He would not disclose when the first payment is due, but Anderson said Civic does not have to nail down its payment schedule until the first payment is due. "Carmel showed a tremendous amount of flexibility," he said.

The maximum term is about 20 years, Anderson said, though unspecified interest charges will encourage Civic to come up with the $10 million more quickly.

Anderson said Civic draws its audience from throughout central Indiana. Patrons received a letter on Wednesday explaining that the theater sought proposals from seven Indianapolis entities. Only one responded, and Anderson said the offer was not as complete as Carmel's.

Anderson said Civic still is looking for space in Indianapolis to conduct its growing educational programs. Jr. Civic serves 10,000 students a year, according to Civic's 2008 tax return.

"We intend to maintain a presence in Marion County, if we can find a place," Anderson said. "We know where our roots are."


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