JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Owing to a lack of shows and a 90 percent dip in revenue year over year, the city has had to dip into its general fund to repay the bonds issued to renovate Thalia Mara Hall.
In 2014, the city issued nearly $2.9 million in bonds to help pay for a $5 million renovation of the historic facility. The bonds were to be repaid with a $3 surcharge added on tickets sold.
But ticket sales ground to a halt last spring when the facility closed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ticket sales have picked up some since reopening for limited performances last fall. But numbers have yet to rebound to the pre-pandemic levels, and the city has had to find funds elsewhere to repay the hall’s bond debt.
“It’s not that the bonds are not being repaid... The finance department is working extra hard to make sure the numbers even out,” said David Lewis, deputy director of Human and Cultural Services. “We have tried to be as helpful as we can.”
Lewis said his office is looking for “unique” ways of bringing in additional revenue to help make up for lost ticket sales.
“We’re hoping to apply for a Save Our Stages grant that came down for independent venues from one of the (COVID-19) relief packages - a shuttered venues opportunity grant we’re applying for this week,” he said.
Lewis didn’t have specific numbers but said as a result of the pandemic, revenues for the auditorium had fallen off by at least 90 percent.
“The grant we’re applying for qualifies us to receive a percentage of the revenue we lost from March 2020 to March 2021, when compared to March 2019 to March 2020,” he said. “We qualified for the first round (of funding), which was open to (auditoriums) that lost 90 percent of their revenue.
“If you look from March to March, there has been a significant. over 90 percent drop off in revenue.”
Meanwhile, Thalia Mara is gearing up for when the pandemic ends, and when it can again bring in major concerts, Broadway shows, and the like.
“The good news is that a lot of the events that were going to happen were not canceled, but delayed,” he said. “There is a pent-up demand for live shows.”
Minutes after crews wrapped up filming on the James Brown biopic, Get on Up, contractors began removing seats and gutting the facility.
The renovations included replacing the 2,200 existing seats with new wider, waterproof seats.
New carpeting was installed, as were new handicapped seats closer to the stage.
Improvements also were made to the facility’s restrooms and stage equipment.
The work was paid for with a combination of private and corporate donations, state dollars, and city bond funds.
To repay the debt, a $5 surcharge was added to tickets, which was later reduced to $3 after the initial amount was deemed too much.
Between October 2018 and September 2019, the hall reported record revenues.
March 2020 also offered a promising start to the spring half of the theater season.
“We started with a symphony performance. We had the Temptations on the eighth; and we almost sold out Beautiful: The Musical and then we had Harry Connick Jr.,” he said. “Everything was cut off March 12.
“We got halfway through the fiscal year and everything was shut down.”
This March, several events also were held, all of which were restricted due to COVID regulations.
However, because of pandemic restrictions on seating, many touring companies have yet to resume touring. And many concert organizers have turned to outdoor venues, which are less restrictive on attendance.
The order mandates that all entry/exit gates and restrooms are open and that attendees may not congregate in areas around the gates or restrooms.
In Jackson, rules are more restrictive. No more than four people can sit together, and those groups of four must be socially distanced from other groups of four. Patrons are also required to always wear masks.
The restrictions mean that seating has been reduced from more than 2,000 to 500.