A last-ditch effort to keep a musical theater company operating on the Marietta Square fell short Tuesday when the board governing the Earl Smith Strand Theatre chose to end its contract with the Atlanta Lyric Theatre.
By a unanimous vote, the Friends of the Strand Board decided not to renew the Lyric’s five-year contract that expires Aug. 31.
“The Board determined the continued association did not give the best possible support for the theater’s business plan,” the Strand board wrote in a statement.
Bob Ash, chairman of the Strand board, said the decision came down to finances.
“We started our negotiations with them to improve our financial position,” Ash said. “We were not able to get to that point. We wanted to try and reach a little more revenue than we had from them in the past.”
The Lyric has paid between $100,000 and $120,000 a year to rent space in the Strand for, on average, about 120 days annually.
“We were, of course, very disappointed,” said Brandt Blocker, artistic director and general manager of the Atlanta Lyric Theatre. “Our patrons have enjoyed going to the Strand for performances.”
Blocker said the Lyric’s presence over the years has given the Strand a new perspective.
“I think that the Strand has seen the success the Lyric has had there, and I think they want to capitalize on that themselves,” Blocker said.
Earl Reece, executive director of the Strand, said the board looked at several options involving a continued relationship with the Lyric, but none would have solved concerns over revenues to handle the theater’s $1.2 million budget.
“I think that it’s sad, but it was all a financial situation,” said Reece. “With a budget of over $1 million a year, we have to generate a certain amount of money a month. The board members asked, ‘Can we do with the financial plan that was presented?’ And they decided we couldn’t.”
The board was looking to bring in more than the 12 to 15 percent of its budget covered by the Lyric.
“It would have required a good bit of money,” Reece said. “In the amount of time for reserving the Lyric – 120 days a year – we needed to fill a void of about 30-plus percent of our budget.”
The Strand board’s decision comes after a last-minute sponsorship proposal offered Friday by Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin and Tom Browning, chairman of the Downtown Marietta Development Authority. As a way of keeping the Lyric in the Strand, they had proposed that the city and the development authority would sponsor five musical shows during the upcoming year.
“We worked hard to try to help both groups work together,” Tumlin said. “It would have required more. They were just going in a different direction, so to speak.”
Tumlin said the city’s offer in the form of a grant would have been for one year.
“That was the challenge,” he said. “Both of them were looking at the long term. The one year did not provide the help we wanted.”
The one-year contribution of the city and the authority, added to the Lyric’s monthly payments, would have in total matched what the Lyric has been paying for each of the past five years, Blocker said.
“We were sort of shocked they said no,” he said.
Ash said Tumlin’s offer was appreciated, but the board looked at the bottom line.
“It was very kind of him to do that, but we just couldn’t make that happen,” Ash said. “It put us back where we were the previous year. We didn’t have any gains.”
With the Lyric leaving, the Strand will examine entertainment alternatives for the theater on the Square.
“We are going to explore everything,” Reece said. “We would like to bring in professional groups. It wouldn’t be a residency or like that. But we’re exploring every option.”
Ash said the move provides options for the Strand.
“We started out as a rental facility, and found we need to do more producing of shows than what we did,” Ash said. “We’ll continue to do that. I don’t think the Square is going to miss anything in terms of the attendance.”
Meanwhile, representatives of the Lyric will continue their efforts to find another home.
Blocker said the Lyric has been looking at a new venue, but the possibility of staying in the Strand put those talks on hold.
“Because we wanted to negotiate in good faith, discussion of the new venue came to a halt,” Blocker said. “Now that the Friends of the Strand made their decision, we can move forward.”
Blocker said the Lyric is planning to announce the new location soon.
“We are committed to remaining in Cobb County,” he said. “We know things can change by the hour, but that’s our commitment. We hope it works out.”