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Guest speaker shares strategies for arts center

By SHANNON GEISEN

Armory project supporters are investigating other art centers in Minnesota, studying their operating budgets and marketing strategies.

Ryan Heinritz, executive director of the Paradise Center for the Arts, recently met with a small gathering of local arts organizers, downtown business owners and Park Rapids Community Development Corporation (PRCDC) board members to share his center’s success story.

“The PRCDC board is working hard to ensure a sustainable model for operating the Armory as an arts and events center,” said Nicole Lalum, executive director of the Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.

Lalum and Paul Dove, chairman of the Park Rapids Lakes Area Arts Council and founder of Northern Light Opera Company, coordinated Heinritz’s visit to Park Rapids.

“Consulting with accomplished people in the industry is just one way that we’re performing due diligence to ensure the project progresses appropriately,” said Lalum.

The Paradise Center is a non-profit, visual and performing arts center in downtown Faribault.

Following a $2.1 million renovation, the multi-disciplinary arts center opened in October 2007. The building includes a 300-seat theater, exhibition gallery, classrooms and retail gift shop.

Located about one hour south of the Twin Cities, Faribault is a historic, mostly blue-collar town of about 23,000 people, said Heinritz.

He became the art center’s administrator in February 2010

“I bring a really big revenue push,” he said.

In order to pay down the facility’s $625,000 mortgage and $150,000 exhausted line of credit, plus operating expenses, Heinritz increased revenue streams and found profit centers.

He launched a membership drive to grow and retain a membership base – that is, individuals paying annual fees to support the center.

By building relationships, Heinritz said he secured large, key donors.

The combination of individual and corporate donations help cover operating expenses, he said.

Ticket revenue from theatrical performances, concerts, exhibitions, art classes and special events pays for programming costs.

A large volunteer program helps sell concessions, run the box office, serve as ushers, etc.

The Paradise Center is in use 365 days a year, Heinritz said, and it’s operating in the black with a balanced budget. The line of credit was paid off, while the mortgage has been reduced by 30 percent.

“Non-profit doesn’t mean lose money,” said Heinritz. “It means make money and reinvest it in the business.”

“You want to be a regional destination,” he said.

The Paradise Center’s success has had a positive economic impact on downtown Faribault as well.

Restaurants and bars must employ more staff on show nights, said Heinritz.

“As a catalyst for economic development, the Paradise has attracted consumers to their historic downtown district, providing an opportunity for businesses to prosper,” said Lalum.

“This is the fundamental drive behind the Armory project – to develop an arts center that draws people to Park Rapids so our businesses can flourish, enhancing the vitality and livability of our city,” she said.

Last May, the city of Park Rapids Economic Development Authority was awarded $2.5 million in state bonding funds to develop Armory Square into a regional arts, education, cultural and events center.

In order to receive the state funding, the Armory must be publicly owned.

Park Rapids city officials and the Park Rapids Community Development Corporation (PRCDC) are currently analyzing the costs and details of an agreement that would transfer ownership of Armory Square to the city.

The PRCDC is also examining potential business models that would allow the Armory to operate independently from the city’s budget – without any subsidy or ongoing burden on the city’s taxpayers.

“Ryan Heinritz has skillfully established the Paradise in Faribault as a destination for residents and for the region, while managing finances in a positive way,” said Lalum. “This is the expertise that we’ve drawn from his presentation.”

“I found him to be very informative,” said local artist Bickey Bender. “He’s a sale person, for sure, with lots of energy. Can what he has accomplished in Faribault happen here? I truly hope so, for I see the completion of the Armory project as a place for many things to be happening.”

Heinritz urged those in attendance to “believe in your city” and “hire a really good sales guy.”

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