SPAC expanding reach: Healthy in 2010, venue working to stay that way
Published: Thursday, May 13, 2010
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Saratoga Performing Arts Center President Marcia White speaks Wednesday morning on the 2010 season during SPAC’s annual meeting at the Hall of Springs. (ERICA MILLER, The Saratogian)
By PAUL POST, The Saratogian
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ERICA MILLER file photo
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga Performing Arts Center’s board might be expanding in numbers and geographic reach as the organization tries to remain financially strong in uncertain economic times.
In 2005, the entire board resigned following a tumultuous period of questionable business practices that prompted a state investigation.
Now, after five straight years of operating in the black, SPAC’s board has grown from seven to 23 and President Marcia White is currying interest among prospective members from New York City.
"I was down there last week talking to people," she said Wednesday, following SPAC’s annual meeting, with about 100 people in attendance. "They may be looking to throw their hat in the ring. You’re always looking for people who can provide new perspective, financial support, or have the ability to attract new sponsors and donors."
All 12 members present on Wednesday are from the Capital Region, but the board already includes John Gilbert of Rudin Management Co. in New York, and Meyer "Sandy" Frucher, chairman of New York City Off Track Betting Corp.
With ticket sales covering less than 45 percent of operating costs, SPAC has to increasingly rely on corporate sponsors and high-end donors for support. Board members, who generally make significant contributions, are another important revenue source.
Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Linda Toohey was elected to the board on Wednesday, replacing First Niagara Corp. executive Daniel Hogarty. Toohey and her husband, Michael, are among this year’s SPAC "Heritage" donors, a new category for people making gifts of at least $50,000.
SPAC’s bylaws allow for a maximum 31-member board. The goal isn’t to grow the board for numbers’ sake, because too large of a body can make it harder to reach consensus on important issues, White said.
"We function very well," she said. "Sometimes a large board creates more difficulties and we don’t have any right now."
That said, there’s no question White is trying to strengthen ties between SPAC and its downstate supporters. In July, the New York City Ballet board will visit Saratoga for the first time since SPAC opened in 1966. Last year, The Philadelphia Orchestra board visited and White said orchestra President and CEO Allison Vulgamore will be here this summer.
Both the ballet and orchestra have had major financial problems in the past year, but Vulgamore said things are starting to turn around for her organization. "We have improved our projected deficit $5 million — from $7.8 million to just under $2.7 million and no further cuts are anticipated at this time," she said. "All of our efforts … are squarely focused on bettering that figure."
Chairman Bill Dake said the core of SPAC’s financial support still comes from local, private backers. This is one reason for its continued success, while many arts organizations that rely on publicly-traded companies are suffering in the wake of the 2008-09 stock market crash.
SPAC is getting new support from two major corporations this year. General Electric Co., for the first time ever, is sponsoring a "GE Kids in Free" program that entitles children 12-and-under to free lawn admission for all classical performances except the Gala and American Girl Night. Also, HSBC Bank is the main classical program sponsor.
SPAC had a $209,000 operating surplus last year. Expenses from 2008 to ’09 went down $300,000, primarily because the ballet’s season was shortened from three to two weeks.
"Our endowment is very small ($4.2 million)," Dake said. "That’s the bad news. The good news is we’re not dependent on it. So we weren’t hurt when the market crashed."
At one time, the endowment was about $8 million, but whittled down as funds were used to offset operational losses. Ideally, SPAC would like to see the fund raised to somewhere between $10 million and $12 million, Audit Committee Chairman Arthur Roth said.
At this time last year, the endowment was at $3.4 million, but has grown considerably as the market improved.
"We’re basically back to where we were before the second Great Depression," Chief Financial Officer Richard Geary said.
Marketing and Development Director Shane Williams-Ness said membership is down about 200 people compared to last year. However, most of the decline is at the sustaining level ($285 individuals, $625 corporate) and lower. Eighty percent of SPAC’s membership revenue comes from higher levels, patron and above.
In voting, Frucher, E. Stewart Jones Jr., Ed Mitzen, Donald J. McCormack, Dee Sarno and Nancy Touhey were re-elected to new terms on the board.
Major SPAC donors
• Legacy ($100,000) — Marylou Whitney and John Hendrickson; Vincent, Ron and Michele Riggi; Susan and Bill Dake Foundation/Stewart’s Shops; Philly and Charlie Dake Foundation; Carl E. and Nancy Touhey; Charles Wood Foundation; The Adirondack Trust Company; The H. Schaffer Foundation; one anonymous donor.
• Heritage ($50,000) — Nancy and Gary DiCrese; Norman and Micki Massry; John Nigro; Linda and Mike Toohey; Stuyvesant Plaza/Ed Swyer.
• Matthew Bender — Bender Family Foundation
• William P. Dake – Stewart’s Shops
• Carol Farmer – Philanthropist
• Meyer S. Frucher – NASDAQ/OMX Group; NYC OTB chairman
• John J. Gilbert – Rudin Management Co. Inc.
• George R. Hearst III – Times Union
• E. Stewart Jones Jr. – E. Stewart Jones, PLLC
• Larry King – The King Group at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney
• Abraham M. Lackman – Praxis Insights
• Edward J. Lewi – Ed Lewi Associates (retired)
• Heather Mabee – Chair, Saratoga-Capital District Regional Parks Commission
• I. Norman Massry – Massry Realty Partners
• Donald J. McCormack – Skidmore College (retired)
• Ed Mitzen – FingerPaint Marketing
• Eleanor K. Mullaney – Attorney At Law
• John J. Nigro – Nigro Companies
• Dr. A. John Popp – Brigham and Women’s Hospital
• Susan Phillips Read – State of New York Court of Appeals
• Arthur J. Roth – consultant, former NYS Tax & Finance Commissioner
• Dolores Sarno – Saratoga Arts Council (retired)
• Nancy Touhey – Philanthropist
• Mrs. Marylou Whitney – Philanthropist
• Linda Toohey – Saratoga Chamber of Commerce
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