Arts group seeks to establish $30 million endowment

The fund would pay to maintain facilities owned by the Victoria Theatre Association including the Schuster Center.

The Victoria Theatre Association is the largest non-governmental owner of property in downtown Dayton, and the organization wants to build a $30 million endowment in order to pay for the future repair and replacement needs of its facilities, officials said.

The Victoria Theatre Association owns the Schuster Center, the Victoria Theatre, the Metropolitan Arts Center and a parking garage at the corner of Second and Ludlow streets.

Building and operational expenses will run about $1 million annually, and a $30 million endowment would hopefully produce sufficient investment returns to cover those costs, said Ken Neufield, the association’s president and CEO.

“The endowment is designed to ensure that all of our facilities are state-of-the-art in the future,” he said.

Events held last year at the Victoria Theatre Association’s venues brought about 450,000 people to downtown Dayton, officials said.

But putting on more than 300 live performances each year is not cheap.

The association pays about $4 million in salaries for its 65 full-time and 65 part-time employees, Neufield said. The association also pays about $4 million for programming, and another $4 million for building and administrative costs.

The association also conducted an in-depth study of its facilities and future funding needs.

Carpets and seats will need to be replaced. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems will require maintenance and repairs. Buildings will need renovated.

The study determined that in order to cover these costs, the association needs an estimated $30 million endowment that produces a roughly 4 percent annual return, or about $1.2 million, Neufield said.

Neufield said an endowment will make sure that the association’s performing arts venues will be around for decades to come. The Schuster Center last year celebrated its 10th anniversary.

“People are very supportive of the idea of making sure these assets – the Victoria, the Metropolitan, the Schuster – are preserved in perpetuity,” he told Montgomery County commissioners late last month.

Neufield said it is important to make sure the association’s facilities, programming and educational initiatives all meet the long-term needs of a changing community.

He said the association has focused on attracting new visitors through educational programs, a discount ticket program and a more diverse selection of entertainment.

Last year, about 25,000 people bought tickets to the association’s events who had never purchased tickets before, he said. He said the venues also welcomed thousands of children who had no previous exposure to an arts event.

Neufield said the association is bringing in fresh acts that appeal to a broad audience.

Edgy comedian Daniel Tosh, who performed at the Schuster Center last June, is extremely popular among young people. The Schuster in June also welcome the hosts of “Mythbusters,” a TV series with a loyal fan base. Other events last year featured celebrity chefs and famous TV personalities.

“We don’t assume that everybody wants to see everything we do,” Neufield said. “Our shows are geared toward all sorts of different audiences.”

The association has tried to make attending the shows affordable to everyone in the community, said Mike Ervin, a trustee with the Victoria Theatre Association’s Board of Trustees.

The Dayton Power & Light Foundation Cheap Seats program offers $10 seats that are mostly in the balcony section. About 10,000 people have signed up for monthly notifications about what cheap tickets are available, officials said.

Neufield said the campaign to build the endowment is still in its early phases. He declined to reveal how much has been collected.

But Neufield and Ervin said they have confidence the community will help the association reach its fundraising goal.

“I am real optimistic that we will have a successful campaign, but it really does take that much money to operate it and maintain it,” he said.

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