Arts center reports boost in 2015 revenue

The arts can often be the linchpin to redevelopment efforts in many towns, some successful and some not so much. Arts organizations had a tough time slogging through the recession, especially smaller local and regional nonprofits. The Union County Performing Arts Center (UCPAC) has always been one of the key targets for downtown redevelopment in Rahway.

UCPAC frontTotal revenue reported by UCPAC was $1.272 million in 2015 (the most recent year available) — rebounding 44 percent from a recent low of $880,471 in 2014 and slightly more than the average going back to 2009. It’s also the highest total since 2012 when MusicFest helped lift revenue to $1.525 million, which also was the last time revenues outpaced expenses.

Revenues outpaced expenses by about $49,000, the first time that’s happened in three years following deficits of $86,592 and $91,489 in 2014 and 2013, respectively.

The boost in revenue for the 1,334-seat UCPAC came through contributions, up from $75,000 to $350,000. That increase was largely the result of a $145,000 endowment thanks to a gift from the Roberta Knox Foundation, according to Chief Financial Officer Len Vanderwende. Interest earned from the endowment is used for senior programming, he said in an email. Not including that gift, the contributions/grants line would still be up by $130,000 over the previous year.

Revenue also benefited from increases in ticket sales revenue, which rose 25 percent from a recent low of $290,000 in 2014 to $318,912. The 2015 figure still lagged the high of $527,045 in 2013 as well as sales in 2011 and 2012 and the average over 2009-15. Theater rental revenue also was up, by 31 percent to a recent high of almost $400,000. It has jumped each year since hitting a low of $161,107 in 2011.

UCPAC was struggling when Union County announced in 2004 that it was acquire the 88-year-old facility. The county’s $6.2 million expansion and renovation was completed in 2008 after acquiring the facility for $1.3 million in 2006 (netting almost $325,000 for UCPAC) and leasing it back to the nonprofit for $1 per year.

Hamilton Stage.completeThe 199-seat Hamilton Stage, built in 2012 for almost $6 million, is included within UCPAC’s Form 990 and accounts for about 20 percent of overall revenue and expenses, according to Vanderwende. UCPAC is up for’s People Choice Awards for Favorite Large Performing Arts Center and Hamilton Stage is up for Favorite Smaller Performing Arts Center (voting ends Feb. 16).

Here’s a spreadsheet detailing some of UCPAC’s finances from 2009 through 2015, gleaned from its annual nonprofit tax Form 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

It’s always important to also look at data like this in context to other facilities. So, here’s a look at finances as compared with other arts centers in the area, also compiled from their 2015 tax forms. I selected these simply based on location, size, and region but I’m sure there might be some others that are comparable to UCPAC: State Theatre in New Brunswick, South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, and Bergen County Performing Arts Center (BergenPAC). With the exception of SOPAC, which is the smallest, all of the facilities were built in the 1920. All have their similarities and differences. For instance, it doesn’t hurt when Springsteen plays a benefit concert for your venue, raising $3 million, as was the case with the Count Basie.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAState Theatre is the largest physically, at 1,847 seats. Count Basie is the largest in terms of 2015 revenue at almost $11 million (and $6.9 million net assets), just ahead of the State Theatre ($10.949 million). UCPAC is the smallest in revenue at $1.272 million and net assets of $264,946. Net assets continue to fluctuate, peaking at almost $400,000 in 2012 followed by a low of about $215,773 in 2014 (the average since 2009 was $286,588).

BergenPAC, Count Basie and State Theatre all generate more than 63 percent of overall revenue through performances while SOPAC yields 39 percent and UCPAC about 25 percent. Theater rental accounts for almost a third of UCPAC’s revenue and has been rising gradually. For other facilities, rentals as revenue range from 3 to 13 percent. Count Basie was the only facility that did not report any government grants in revenue.

Last year UCPAC launched a promotional website, highlighting its programming and other events around the city. Revenue and expenses related to the Tap Into Rahway site won’t appear on UCPAC’s tax form until the 2016 tax form but Vanderwende expects they will be minimal since the site is run with existing staff. He described Tap Into as part marketing UCPAC and marketing Rahway.

Tap Into is a network of local websites that are franchised by local operators paying a franchise fee to the parent company. The city does not directly contribute to any franchising fee, City Administrator Cherron Rountree said. City employees who contribute to Tap Into do so on their own time unless they’re providing city-based information that’s available to the public.

In each of the past two years, City Council has awarded a contract up to $80,000 with UCPAC for services related to downtown events and programming. The contract is for services and completely separate from Tap Into, Rountree said.

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