Beset by the effects of the pandemic, Metropolis Performing Arts Centre is poised to get an extra $200,000 subsidy from Arlington Heights village hall, the village board decided Tuesday.
The mayor and trustees agreed to Metropolis’ request to dip into a restricted reserve account that was set up in 2015 to augment the downtown theater’s cash flow in the case of extraordinary revenue declines or operational costs.
There’s now $317,000 in the account, which is funded through local food and beverage taxes.
“At that time we were all hoping we would never really have to access that, but nobody anticipated the economic situation we faced in the last couple years,” said Steve Daday, president of the nonprofit theater’s board of directors.
The theater plans to use the $200,000 village contribution as seed money for its upcoming Secure Our Future fundraising campaign, with an overall goal of raising $571,000 by year’s end. Officials plan to solicit $150,000 from major donors, and the remainder from patrons and other supporters.
This is the second time the theater is getting the village board’s permission to use the special fund. It was allowed to tap into the fund in 2017 to cover costs for HVAC repairs and new second-floor glass security doors.
The new special fund money comes in addition to an annual operating subsidy — now at $275,000 — that the village gives to the theater.
Despite a recent uptick in ticket sales and seasonal subscriptions, Metropolis officials told the village board Tuesday night there’s an immediate need to replenish the theater’s reserves.
“We’ve gotten closer and closer to the edge such that another push and that could be it for us,” said Brendan Ragan, the theater’s artistic director.
He said the cost of goods to stage shows — everything from clothing and electronics to lumber and paint — is 20% to 50% higher than a year or two ago. The theater has increased salaries to retain staff, he said, while also raising artists’ pay.
Daday added that Metropolis was closed for a year at the height of the pandemic, then staged shows in a tent before returning indoors in 2022. Now, he said, the theater is dealing with the rise of streaming and stay-at-home entertainment in the post-pandemic era.
“People aren’t really interested in getting off their sofa and getting out of their pajamas,” Daday said. “They’d rather stream Netflix for their entertainment.”
Mayor Tom Hayes, the longest-tenured village board member, said he realized when Metropolis opened in 2000 that “a community theater would take community support” from not only residents to fill the seats but also financial contributions from village government.
The extra contribution from the special fund came with the recommendation of the village staff and Village Manager Randy Recklaus, who said the theater’s fiscal management has improved since 2015, when the village began to exert greater oversight.
Keith Moens, a regular village meeting attendee and longtime critic of Metropolis subsidies, said the theater’s ask for public funds marked the continuation of a long negative financial trend. He questioned the purported economic stimulus of the theater on downtown restaurants and businesses.
“Turning money over and over again and expecting a different result is just not responsible management of our tax funds,” Moens said.
The board will take a final vote to release the cash to Metropolis on Monday.