Civic Center gains and losses

The Asheville Civic Center came in slightly over budget on income and under budget on expenses during the first half of the current fiscal year—a cause for smiles at the Civic Center Commission’s Jan. 28 meeting.

At the Center: City Council member Jan Davis (foreground) and Civic Center Commission Vice Chair Bill Lack discuss bringing the Big South Women’s Basketball Tournament to the facility. Photo By Jonathan Welch

Since David Pisha‘s departure as director last July, former Operations Manager Dan Dover has been filling in. But Assistant City Manager Jeff Richards said the hiring of a new director was imminent. Final interviews had been conducted with the top four candidates from a very strong field of applicants, he told the commissioners, and the new director was expected to be named within a matter of days.

Meanwhile, UNCA Athletics Director Janet Cone was on hand to promote the idea of hosting the Big South Conference women’s basketball tournaments at the Civic Center in 2009 and 2010. Cone helped bring the event to UNCA’s Justice Athletic Center the last two years, but the tournament has now outgrown that venue. Civic Center Commission members unanimously endorsed the plan and recommended that the city approve it.

On the down side, the commissioners discussed the loss of the Nederlander “Broadway in Asheville” series, which is pulling out of the Civic Center at the end of this season after four years of tours. The final show will be Annie on March 19.

Events Administrator Marcia Hart explained later that Nederlander is leaving both the Asheville and Knoxville markets due to poor attendance. “They have not had the response [anticipated],” she said. “The community has not come forward and supported them.”

“You need to have a sellout,” said Hart, adding that many shows here have sold only about half their seats. Cats and Fosse did draw well, she noted, but other anticipated crowd-pleasers fell well below the needed attendance level.

“Broadway sets are very expensive,” Hart pointed out, “and that [the Nederlander series] was as prime as it gets. The fact that Asheville got them in the first place was phenomenal.”

Another problem, she noted, was shortcomings at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, such as a nonregulation-size stage with no wings and notoriously difficult loading facilities. Both items have languished on the list of urgently needed improvements at the Civic Center. And as the economy has gone retrograde, “There’s less disposable income; the price of gas has been escalating,” said Hart.

“We try to offer a huge diversity of events,” she continued. “[Nederlander] filled a niche. I think it was a tribute to the town that Nederlander came here in the first place. … They’re a wonderful group of people, and I’m hopeful that down the road they’ll reconsider the Asheville market.”

Hart said she plans to look for other ways to put Broadway on the roster, but it may amount to only one or two shows a year.

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