Jul 28, 2014

Officials Work to Overhaul Artisphere Business Plan

County Board Member Member Mary Hynes says arts center has an 'identity issue.'

Officials Work to Overhaul Artisphere Business Plan

, the cultural arts hub in Rosslyn, Seven months later, though, local officials are voicing serious concerns about the center's financial standing after it has accumulated an $800,000 deficit over the past fiscal year.

Arlington County Board Member Mary Hynes seconded a recent board motion to revamp Artisphere's business plan.

"The business plan needs to be revised, no question," Hynes said in a phone interview with Patch. "It’s right to say we couldn’t sustain it infinitely."

At the county board's direction, a task force comprising local officials from various county departments is looking at the center's business plan and trying to come up with ways to get the revenue stream flowing in the right direction. This task force will report back to the board with its recommendations at the end of the summer.

Hynes, who visits Artisphere about twice a month, says it will take some time to recoup the county's original investment. The board realizes this, she said, but it expects Artisphere to becoming viable within three years.

"I think from an economic development point of view, arts done right really can help an area’s vibrancy and can cause other businesses to grow," she said. But, she added, "Artisphere has some identity issues."

Hynes isn't the only public figure critical of the organization. , Audrey Clement, a Green Party candidate running for a seat on the County Board, said the county is spending money on Artisphere that would be better spent on other projects.

"This project was and is a risky venture," Clement said, "and only venture capitalists should be in the business of risky ventures, not county governments."

Annalisa Meyer, a spokeswoman for Artisphere, admits there were problems with the original business plan — specifically that it contained unrealistic expectations.

"That plan assumed that from day one, we’d be selling out our houses," Meyer said. Artisphere's website and online ticketing mechanism weren't even up-and-running until January, months after the center's grand opening, she said.

Several key personnel, including Executive Director Jose Ortiz, were not in place until January, either, she said. Artisphere's in-house bar and restaurant, which is intended to draw a significant source of the center's revenue, did not open until April 1.

"These sort of basic building blocks weren’t there yet. They were in development," Meyer said. "There are a number of things that contributed to not meeting some of the expectations in the business plan."

That said, Artisphere is actively involved with the task force's mission, she said. And there's good news: Private donations are higher than expected, and the community has expressed a true appreciation for the new venue.

"The public is speaking back in different ways and supporting us," Meyer said. "We take very seriously our mission to bring exciting art to the area."

Christopher Henley is the artistic director for the Washington Shakespeare Company — one of several local arts organizations that call Artisphere home. He said the new center is a blessing for the Rosslyn community.

"Rosslyn is really busy during the day. There's a lot of activity. But on nights and weekends, it kind of becomes a ghost town," Henley said. "It’s been demonstrated beyond any question or doubt that arts activity is an incredible boost to a city or a neighborhood’s economy."

Henley said the , which is near Artisphere in Rosslyn, bought an advertisement in the Washington Shakespeare Company's program because many theater goers have been dining in the hotel's restaurant before the Artisphere shows.

"The businesses around Rosslyn are feeling the benefits of Artisphere. I’ve gotten a lot of anecdotal evidence to support that and I really believe it," he said.

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