New Center of Dance opens next spring
Even in tough times, Houston Ballet thinks big
Now in the summer of 2010, in the sputtering recovery of the Great Recession 2008 with the stock market struggling to reach the level at which it was at in 2004, we are asked to reflect on the state of the arts in Houston. No one would be surprised to hear that the last three years have not been easy, nor do we expect the current and future years to be a breeze either.
At Houston Ballet, we have seen that the income over the last three fiscal years (ending June 30, 2008, 2009 and 2010) has remained relatively constant, while costs of doing business continue to rise. This means we have had to find ways to provide the same quality of performances and services without increasing overall expenses.
One unfortunate result has been a pay freeze for non-union employees for two years in a row. This has been a real burden on our employees. We have also found less expensive ways to produce the same high level of production and performance.
Houston Ballet is building a new state of the art facility in downtown Houston, across the street from the Wortham Theater Center, to house the ballet’s rehearsal facilities, production and administrative offices, wardrobe shop, physical therapy department and a dormitory for upper level out-of-town students.
In 2005 we began the strategic planning for a new facility to replace our current building on West Gray where we have been since 1984. This strategic plan was developed long before there was any hint of the looming economic crisis. We committed to buy the land in downtown early in 2007 and commenced a combined building and endowment fundraising campaign. In May of 2007 Houston Ballet sold its facility on West Gray and completed the purchase of the land for the new building.
Fortunately, a number of the major commitments for the construction of the new building were made before the onslaught of the economic crisis, but fundraising became much more difficult in the fall of 2008 and 2009. However, the board commitment to move forward with this project was firm, and there was a deadline to move out of the facilities on West Gray. Houston has a tradition of moving forward in tough times, and the building of the Wortham Theater Center and the Menil Collection in the midst of the oil bust are prime examples of this attitude. Therefore construction of our new Center for Dance commenced on July 15, 2009. It is scheduled to open next spring.
There have been benefits in moving forward with construction, especially in cost savings in steel and concrete prices which have been $3 million less than originally estimated. Also, this project has provided jobs to scores of construction personnel in the Houston area, with over 350,000 hours of employment being provided.
Interestingly, two other ballet companies in the United States were faced with the issue of whether to move forward with new buildings. Kansas City Ballet began renovations in the fall of 2009 of the 1914 Union Station Power House to become their new home, the Todd Bolender Center. Pennsylvania Ballet in Philadelphia closed on a piece of property in the summer of 2007 to house their company and school but have postponed plans for their building because of the recession’s impact.
Our view is that the arts scene in Houston will continue to be vibrant and vital to the economy of the city and to the quality of life.
Cecil C. Conner is managing director of Houston Ballet