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Orpheum near to signing management deal with Intrust Bank Arena operators

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, August 16, 2013, at 10:04 a.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, at 2:53 p.m.

Wichita’s Orpheum Theatre is close to signing a management agreement with SMG – the same Philadelphia-based company that manages Intrust Bank Arena for Sedgwick County, said Gary Allerheiligen, the Orpheum’s interim CEO and programming director.

The agreement, expected to be signed any day, would mean that the Orpheum’s booking of shows and accounting would be handled by SMG. Three administrative employees – including Allerheiligen, president Jennifer Wright and a soon-to-be hired director for development and marketing – would continue to be employed by the nonprofit group that owns the Orpheum and would focus their energies on working with the community and raising money toward the theater’s restoration.

SMG would hire a new director of programming, who would work in the Orpheum offices, Allerheiligen said. Other employees working at the theater would be employed by SMG once the contract is signed.

One and a half full-time-equivalent positions in the finance office would be eliminated locally when SMG assumes responsibility for the theater’s finances.

“SMG has lots of expertise in the theater area, and the bottom line is that by engaging them, it’s going let the Orpheum staff focus on our normal fundraising activities for the performing arts and on our upcoming capital campaign for the total restoration of the theater,” Allerheiligen said.

The Orpheum was built in 1922, and its restoration has been underway for nearly three decades. To date, the 1,200-seat theater has gotten a new roof, renovated restrooms and lobby, marquee and sound system. The multimillion-dollar total restoration that theater officials have planned would include tearing out the wood floor, replacing all the seats and repairing and repainting the crumbling plaster.

SMG originally approached Orpheum officials about managing the theater three years ago when they were awarded the contract for Intrust Bank Arena, Allerheiligen said. In addition to arenas, the company manages more than 60 performing arts theaters like the Orpheum across the country.

This spring, when the Oprheum lost its director of programming – a position that had seen much turnover during the past 10 years – the Orpheum board decided to revisit the offer, he said.

SMG will charge the Orpheum a management fee, but the expectation is that the company will increase the number and quality of shows at the Orpheum to offset that cost.

“We are incurring some incremental costs to hire them, but we truly believe they will bring enough additional patrons to the theater that it won’t cost us anything,” Allerheiligen said.

A.J. Boleski, the general manager of Intrust Bank Arena and SMG’s highest-ranking Wichita employee, likely would be responsible for hiring the new programming director, Allerheiligen said.

On Thursday, Boleski said he couldn’t talk about the details of the deal because it wasn’t complete.

“We have had discussions with them,” he said. “We are always looking to grow our business.”

Allerheiligen said that local productions, such as the Tallgrass Film Festival and Gridiron, would still be able to use the theater but would work with SMG for bookings. He said he didn’t foresee any significant changes or price increases for those groups.

The large crew of volunteers who work at Orpheum events also would still be part of the operation, he said, and a meeting for volunteers will happen soon.

Havey Sorensen, chairman of the Orpheum’s board, said the agreement would mean good things for the theater.

“When you have things going on that are demanding and immediate, it’s hard to focus on longer-term priorities,” he said. “This allows us to focus on longer-term priorities knowing that our short-term needs are going to be taken care of.”

Reach Denise Neil at 316-268-6327 or dneil@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @deniseneil.

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