On Wednesday, Sept. 26, the Parks and Recreation Commission will hold a study session to figure out how the city can make the most of its theatrical investment, armed with results from a survey of theater patrons and a new grant program for community performers.
The city, which contributed $2.6 million toward construction, shares the center with Menlo-Atherton High School. In exchange Menlo Park is supposed to get 55 days of rent-free use during the school year, and unlimited access during school vacations.
But as the Almanac reported in June, it hasn't worked out that way. So far the city has used only between 11 and 36 days of its allotment each year since the theater opened in 2009. The city has booked 15 days this fiscal year (starting July 1), with potentially nine more shows scheduled after the winter.
Scheduling presents one obstacle, as school events take priority over community use. Another factor is cost; community groups failed to flock to the theater because of the expense.
Many events were quickly deemed unfeasible once the direct costs for using the facility were realized, the city says. The average cost for a single-day rental ranges from $500 to $1,000, according to a staff report.
"Often these direct costs are too high for local community groups," the report says. "The size of theater, with 492 seats, has also proven to be too large for these types of events as well."
A helping hand
The city continues to search for cost-effective solutions after a proposal to spend $100,000 on a business plan and a theater management company failed to receive funding this year.
One new initiative is a Menlo Park Grant for the Arts program, designed to help community groups afford theater space. Five groups would each receive $500 to $1,000 a year toward rental costs. According to the staff report, applicants will be evaluated on proximity to the city; the utility of using the PAC; and whether "the planned performance aligns with the goals and values of the City of Menlo Park, including: fostering human development, connecting people to others, strengthening families, and material appropriate for all ages, races, religions, etc."
The city also took a closer look at who uses the theater by surveying theater patrons in August and building a database of performers. Of the 107 people who answered the survey, 37.4 percent had attended a show at the PAC. They preferred children's and modern theater, films, musicals and rock concerts, with performances held at times other than Friday nights and weekday afternoons.
Sixty-three respondents said they'd favor using taxpayer dollars to increase the PAC budget from $64,000 to $114,000, with several suggesting the city do a better job of advertising events. "PUBLICIZE!! I have no idea what performances are being held there," one commented.
The Menlo Park Parks and Recreation Commission meets at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 26, in the Arrillaga Family Recreation Center at 701 Laurel St. in the Menlo Park Civic Center.
• Visit tinyurl.com/9ftqk3v to review the staff report.