Broward Center's $43 Million Expansion Lacks One Thing: Young People

Categories: Politics
browardcenterexpansion.jpg
Provided by the Broward Center
Taxpayers would pay for half of the expansion that would stretch the Broward Center back toward the New River.
Comedian Larry Miller comes to the Broward Center May 26, bringing his brand of one-liners and just slightly offensive jokes. He'll have the largely elderly crowd chuckling somewhat regularly with lines like: "I've been thinking about global warming a lot... If it's a choice between a safe, healthy Earth and big cars, air condition, hamburger meat, and liquor, I'm afraid the Earth has got to go."

His act is more updated than the comedians of his youth, who would've ended a joke like that with a snare drum and symbol crash. But Miller's isn't so updated -- the average age of the crowd will still probably be somewhere near 60.

And that's why voters ought to question chipping in half of the $43 million for the planned expansion of the Broward Center. It's not that the performing arts center isn't a
jewel of Broward County -- it's a stunning venue with great acoustics and ideal location. But the center has a lineup that attracts only a blue-haired crowd, and until that changes, anyone who hasn't started receiving AARP the Magazine ought to question the plan.

The Broward Center has been working for about two years on an expansion to add new seating, carpeting, a club level, retractable awnings over the courtyard, and a two-story pavilion out back near the New River.

Private donors have already agreed to put in $16 million toward the expansion, and the Broward Center expects to raise $5.5 million more. The rest of the money will come from us in the form of tax money from many sources, none of which need voter approval.

Fort Lauderdale commissioners have agreed already to put in $3.8 million, and the Downtown Development Authority has promised $1 million. County commissioners may put in another $12 million. The Broward Center also wants the School Board to chip in $6 million, but the board has been reluctant in light of severe state cutbacks.

Looking at the Broward Center's lineup, it's understandable why anybody would be reluctant. Take the events scheduled for the next few weeks: the Baby Boomer-era musical Hair; an antibullying program called "Through the Red Door"; a program featuring kids as young as 3 called "Dance Dimensions"; and a screening of the Ken Burns film Prohibition. If any of those events gets you excited, chances are you're eating dinner before most people have happy hour.

Broward Center officials dispute the idea that their lineup is planned for those with blue hair. CEO Kelley Shanley pointed to the Broadway-style traveling shows like Mama Mia, which is coming in July. Nationwide, those traveling shows attract an audience that's 40 percent under the age of 50, Shanley says.

Of course, there are two ways to look at statistics, and with 60 percent over the age of 50, that means three out of every five audience members are older.

Shanley also emphasized that the Broward Center attracts concerts, including in the past year Tears for Fears, John Mellencamp, and Jackson Browne. Those aren't exactly contemporary performers, but Shanley says he can attract a larger number of younger people to shows like those as opposed to smaller and more modern acts. "We are committed to reaching those audiences," he said of young people. "We just don't want to do it at the expense of others."

That kind of thinking -- that Jackson Browne is better than, say, Vampire Weekend -- won't help win over younger voters who may be turned off by contributing to a venue they don't visit.

Bernard J. Peck is chairman of the Broward Center foundation and has been an organizing force since it opened 20 years ago. When asked why the Broward Center offers few shows geared for people under retirement age, he saw it as constructive criticism. "You have a good point," Peck said. "It's something we need to talk about."

Peck defended the need for an overhaul. At the least, the seats and mechanics of the center have become outdated, he said, and the new amenities will help the center compete with South Florida's other performance halls. He may be right, especially considering the half-billion-dollar Adrienne Arsht Center that opened in Miami five years ago.

But before taxpayers send the Broward Center an eight-figure sum at a time when many people are struggling to pay the mortgage, we ought to ask for more from that stale lineup. Instead, the center ought to look to the Arsht Center, which this year brought in The Sparrow, a critically acclaimed play that feels more sci-fi movie than touring Broadway blockbuster. Or at the lineup of the Fillmore, a Miami Beach theater with modern-day acts, like upcoming shows by Matisyahu and Diego Torres.

Matisyahu may not be today's hottest act, but he's certainly more contemporary than Les Misérables, which first appeared on Broadway in 1906. It may be a stretch, but there's a chance someone in the Broward Center audience might've been there for that first show.


Follow The Pulp on Facebook and on Twitter: @ThePulpBPB. Follow Eric Barton on Twitter: @ericbarton.
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6 comments
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Gayle
Gayle

Perhaps Mr. Barton should fact check before writing articles - Les Miserables opening in 1985 and is celebrating its 25th Anniversary, making the production 25 years old, not 105 as this "journalist" implies.

Shirley
Shirley

Your article misses some very critical points. With regards to programming that attracts younger audiences, you failed to mention Video Games Live, Spring Awakening, Chris Botti - all at the Broward Center this season, as well Groovaloo, featuring hip hop winners from the younger-targeted "So You Think You Can Dance" show, and the 20-something Avett Brothers, which the Broward Center booked at Parker Playhouse recently as part of the revitalization of that venue. Overall, what they offer are well-balanced seasons that have appeal across the full spectrum.

Additionally - the business case for having county dollars invested is solid. The Center's original price tag was a modest $52 million dollars - and they retired their date over a decade early. They run over 90% self-funded - taking few public dollars, which is a huge contrast to the other public venue you reference and exemplary in the non-profit world.   They also re-invest in the community through education programs, arts access programs and more. All of which proves they are good stewards of investment dollars.

Lastly, the center  helped revitalize a neighborhood in need 20 years ago when the doors first opened. The concepts being proposed in the expansion plan will help reinvigorate the area once again, at a time when a new boost is sorely needed due to the downturn in the economy.

If you want today's top acts the Center, which was built back when the fax machine was cutting edge, must be upgraded. And it is to remain a jewel of the community - the community should pitch in its fair share.

With counties spending millions on sports arenas without any hesitation, and our neighbors to the south investing in parks, museums and arts centers -seems completely imprudent for the county NOT to make an investment to help the center stay relevant in a highly competitive environment. 

Steph
Steph

So the 150,000+ students that come through the Broward Center's doors each year through their arts education program don't count as "younger audience?!"  What kind of logic argues the cost of updating Broward’s theater, which draws large sums of tourism dollars to Broward County… yet applauds the Arsht Center’s programming, which needed to be subsidized by Miami-Dade to the tune of $13 million dollars?  The Broward Center IS serving a broad audience, both in age and culture, in an economically responsible programming and operations, while also generating business for our community and arts education for children at a critical time (as schools are being forced to eliminate their individual programs).  I’m a 40-something woman who attends a variety of shows at the Broward Center and I, for one, think it’s fair to ask for some re-investment support from public funds.

The Pulp Blog
The Pulp Blog

You're right that they do have great programs for school-aged kids. But there's a big gap from there to middle-aged audiences of Jackson Browne. I was at Magure's the other day and asked a group of 20- and 30-somethings about the Broward Center. Only one of them had been in years, and many of them had never gone. 

Of course, it doesn't have to be that way. A commitment to bringing in shows for that demographic would go a long way to showing that these improvements should be paid by all taxpayers.

louie
louie

using this logic anyone who dosen't drive shouldn't pay road taxes, don't have school children no more school taxes, I never go to a park should my tax dollars go to keeping them up. really young people grow old to it happened to me and it will happen to you if your lucky.

The Pulp Blog
The Pulp Blog

The difference is that we need roads and schools, whether you use them or not. We don't need to expand the Broward Center. So if it's targeted to only one segment of the population, perhaps only that segment should pay for its expansion, not everyone.

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