A rendering of the now-complete Smith Center in Las Vegas.
With more than 10,500 subscriptions for the first Broadway show series, the Smith Center has already sold more than 66 percent of seats available for the shows and it doesn’t even open until March 1.
“It seems to be going extremely well,” said Paul Beard, VP and COO of the new venue. “We’ve tracked performing arts centers across the country and haven’t seen anything like that.”
The first series of four Broadway shows includes The Color Purple in April, Mary Poppins in May, Million Dollar Quartet in June, and Memphis in July. Beard added that the gross potential for the first Broadway series is about $4 million; however, there are several costs associated with putting on the productions.
“More important than the 66 percent of seats we’ve already sold for those shows is that moving forward into 2013, which is our first full season, we expect we’ll have a high retention rate,” added Beard. The Fall 2012-Summer 2013 season is yet to be announced; however, Beard said there would be six shows on subscription and two additional shows as separate specials.
The venue opens March 1 with a free show for the men and women who did construction on the facility.
“That day and the next night are our Hard Hat concerts,” said PR Manager Amber Stidham. “Randy Travis will be performing both nights.”
The venue had a total price tag of $470 million. Stidman said that funding for the facility came from a near-even combination of public and private donations.
The Reynolds Foundation kicked off support for the facility with a $50-million endowment. They later contributed an additional $100 million for the actual construction of the facility, but their contributions didn’t stop there.
“They gave us money to build a two-acre park across the street, more money for the core and shell of the Discovery Children’s Museum and additional money to build a parking garage,” said Beard. “They hadn’t and haven’t stopped donating.”
The City of Las Vegas provided the land, infrastructure and uncovered parking area for the facility, which has been in the works for 10 years.
He added that there are 57 entities that have donated $1 million or more.
The City of Las Vegas also contributed by implementing a rental car tax. “That tax spun off about $105 million that was bonded and used for design and construction,” said Beard.
The rental car tax will be ongoing; however, the city ended up putting additional money into the facility to make up the difference in construction costs and available funds.
“The first claim on any revenue that comes from the rental car tax, above what it costs to service the bond, will go to the City in repayment of the extra money they put in,” said Beard. “Long range, that tax may be a source of operating revenue for the Smith Center, but in the more immediate sense it won’t help with operating costs.”
Beard said the Smith Center will strive to have a balanced budget achieved by a combination of revenue and keeping expenses low; however, fundraising and donations will be important because earned income won’t balance the budget completely.
Though most of the 35-40 million visitors to Las Vegas each year choose entertainment on the Strip, there is a local market of 2 million residents.
“The Smith Center was built for the people that live here,” said Beard, who noted that Las Vegas is the largest community in North America that didn’t have a performing arts center. “Our mission is to serve this community and the indigenous population, which is why our single show prices start at $24.”
The facility, which has three performance spaces including the 2,050-seat Reynolds Hall, will be the resident venue for the Las Vegas Philharmonic and the Nevada Ballet Theatre, both of which previously performed at University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
“They pay a tiny, miniscule rental fee,” said Beard, “because we basically guaranteed them the same rate that they had been paying at UNLV.”
Designers of the Smith Center included David M. Schwarz Architects as the design architect, HKS Architects as the executive architect and Akusticks for acoustical design. Fisher Dachs Associates, Donnel Consultants, Whiting-Turner, The Projects Group, Kleinfelder, HMA Consulting, IBA Consultants, Martin & Martin Civil Engineers and Surveyors, MSA Engineering Consultants, SBLD Studio, Terracon, Two Twelve Associates, Green Building Services and Walter P. Moore Engineers & Consultants also were involved in the design process.
The biggest challenge when constructing this facility came from it being multipurpose. “You’re trying to balance the commitment to all of the different artistic disciplines, so while on one hand you want great symphonic acoustics for the symphony you also want ballet and opera to be able to work in the theatre as well as Broadway musicals and concerts, but you don’t want to compromise any of them,” said Beard.
“You can work all of that out in the design phase of the project but you need to be able to step up financially in a way that you can pull all of that off,” he added.
Interviewed for this article: Paul Beard, (702) 749-2393; Amber Stidham, (702) 749-2335