Boca Raton: Festival given free use of amphitheater

By Margie Plunkett

    The Festival of the Arts will get the use of the Mizner Park amphitheater for free this year — although it will still pay for utilities, the first time Boca Raton hasn’t charged a rental fee since it took over amphitheater operations.
     Mayor Susan Whelchel asked council members to consider a fee reduction in January, but council member Michael Mullaugh followed with a proposal to eliminate it. “We don’t want to be in charge of setting up something like this. Let us give them the amphitheater to use.”
    The same organization that started the festival raised the money to build the amphitheater, Whelchel said. “It was built by this organization and these people — we did not start it.” When “they fell on hard years,” the city took it over, she said.
    The seventh annual Festival of the Arts, run by the Schmidt Family Center for the Arts, will be held from March 7 to 16 this year, and includes lectures and performances by the New World Symphony, Peking Acrobats and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, to name a few. Tickets for the event range from $15 to $100.
    The organization pays more than $300,000 to bring in the performers, according to Whelchel.
    It’s a “really magnificent period of time in March where every single night and/or day there is something out of New York — out of the best production you could ever have,” Whelchel said, in asking for the fee reduction.
    City Manager Leif Ahnell said the fee had been reduced to $4,000 this year from a full price of $27,000, adding he believed the reduction had already been made this year. The city supplies the police and fire protection.
    “We’re contributing in many ways,” council member Susan Haynie said. “They also have the added expense of the roof structure.”
    The festival pays a third of the roof structure for the event.
    While this is the first time Boca Raton hasn’t charged the fee for rental of the amphitheater, it doesn’t charge itself when using the facility for city-produced of co-produced events, Assistant City Manager Mike Woika wrote in an emailed comment.
Woika didn’t fear the move would set precedent for other free amphitheater uses.
    “Other non-profits may ask City Council for a waiver in the future, but I think it would be a difficult sell,” he said. “The festival offers a unique opportunity for the city and CRA — multiple events over a 10-day or so period featuring the high caliber of cultural artists and authors.
     “City Council members recognize the benefit to the community that the festival brings,” Woika said, “and I think it would be hard to duplicate that benefit with a one- or two-day event by another non-profit.”


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