9 Investigates

Dr. Phillips Charities CEO Ken Robinson resigns from Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

ORLANDO, Fla. — Dr. Phillips Charities CEO Ken Robinson resigned from the board of directors at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.  Robinson raised questions about center leadership in his three-page resignation letter.

The arts center was named in Dr. Phillips’ honor after the charity gave $25 million to get the project going in 2006.  Since that major donation, the charity has given an additional $10-million toward Steinmetz Hall, the second phase of the project.  A 2007 contract granted Dr. Phillips Charities the naming rights to the building, but arts center officials recently wanted to sell superior naming rights to other parcels of the campus.

That dispute drove a wedge between the partnership.  Robinson wrote his "continuation on the board would be unproductive and impractical under its current leadership and direction."

Robinson specifically mentioned Dr. Phillips Center CEO Kathy Ramsberger in his letter, noting that on multiple occasions, Ramsberger suggested she wanted to sell naming rights to the entire campus, but that their agreements did not allow her to do so.

Dr. Phillips Center spokesperson Lorri Shaban told us in a statement that the center secured two independent legal opinions in their favor regarding the naming rights issue, but at the request of the city and to avoid threatened litigation, they granted Dr. Phillips Charities expanded naming rights beyond the building at no additional investment.

Aside from the fight over naming rights, Robinson detailed his concern about the center’s finances.  He noted a board-approved plan for the front plaza, which has not been publicly discussed, and is aimed at filling a funding gap, would require another $70 million in tourism tax dollars while only generating $200,000 in annual revenue.

Robinson also wrote that Phase 2, Steinmetz Hall, "is not complete and needs its own additional funding to fill cost overruns and fundraising shortfalls."

Shaban responded to that claim, stating that construction of Steinmetz Hall is currently on budget and on track to open in fall 2020 as planned. She says center leaders are monitoring two items impacting the budget – concrete and electrical costs – and will continue to do so as construction progresses.

Robinson’s letter also raised concerns about the now-stalled rate negotiations for local groups planning to perform at Steinmetz Hall.  Last week, 9 Investigates spoke to leaders of the Orlando Ballet, Orlando Philharmonic and Opera Orlando who say they are not receiving the rates they expected based on the fact that the second phase of the project was being built specifically to house local performers.  Those negotiations were just put on hold until the fall.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer was unavailable to speak on camera Monday, but told 9 Investigates in a statement, “I respect Ken’s decision to leave the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center Board of Directors and wish him well. I am grateful for the leadership and generosity of Ken Robinson and the Dr. Phillips Charities and their role in bringing a world-class performing arts center to the City of Orlando."

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings also sent a statement, saying, “I am sorry to see Ken Robinson leave the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center Board of Directors, because of what Dr. Phillips Charities has meant to the overall success of the facility. I remain encouraged that an amicable resolution can occur to maintain the engagement of Dr. Phillips Charities with the Performing Arts Center.”

The Dr. Phillips Center provided Channel 9 with the following statement:

"On negotiations with arts groups

We have a long history of working with the Orlando Ballet and Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as dozens of other arts groups. Since 2005, we have worked with their leadership to plan for their performances in our theaters, leading to their inaugural seasons in the one-of-a-kind, world-class Steinmetz Hall. The plan we’ve consistently laid out has always been to gradually reach an average rental rate; in fact, prior to our 2014 opening, the gradual rental rate increase schedule was presented to both resident contract organizations, as well as the City and County.

Keep in mind our rates to date, and the rates offered to the Ballet and OPO for their first two seasons in Steinmetz Hall, are the lowest of any similar venue in Florida. In fact, the rates are about a third of the daily cost to operate the center.

A few other facts to keep in mind:

• We've provided the Ballet and OPO (our resident contracted companies) with more than $2 million in rent value and other support, and we've helped with past fundraising and marketing. 
• We've raised funds to cover costs for the Ballet to engage a strategic arts management consultant (Michael Kaiser) to assist with their 2015-2016 season.
• We've hired the OPO for more than $650,000 to perform in our self-presented shows.
• We've supported the Opera and 100+ other local nonprofit arts groups with more than $1 million in rent value and other support.
• We cover between $4.5 and $5 million in annual facility costs for upkeep on the City-owned asset (building and grounds) to ensure it is fully operational and performance-ready.

The business model for the arts center, vetted and approved over several years by Orange County, the City of Orlando, our board of directors and arts groups, is specifically designed to operate without receiving public funds for operations. It’s a non-profit, risk-based model that has an independent mission to embrace all of the arts. Just as the arts center is expected to run a fiscally responsible business, the resident contracted arts groups are asked to do the same to be able to perform in such a world-class venue.

We value what these groups do and bring to the community. We want them to perform here, and we want them to succeed. We’ve been both considerate of the groups’ positions and transparent about the center’s operations throughout the entire process. Our team is doing all we can to work cooperatively with the Ballet, OPO and Opera, while maintaining a programming schedule that advances our mission and generates revenue for ongoing operations.

On naming rights

As the arts center’s namesake and largest donor to date, Dr. Phillips Charities contributions are greatly appreciated.

Recently, we’ve been working through an issue with Dr. Phillips Charities President/CEO Ken Robinson on whether or not the arts center had the ability to offer naming rights for parcels and property outside the building itself.

We secured two independent legal opinions on the matter attesting to our position; however, at the request of the city and to avoid threatened litigation, we agreed to grant Dr. Phillips Charities expanded naming rights to the campus at no additional investment. 
Those agreements have now been finalized and executed.

On Ken Robinson’s resignation

We received notification from Ken that he would be transitioning off the executive committee and board, and appointing another Dr. Phillips Charities representative to serve. Ken has been a member of our executive committee and board for five years, helping lead the direction and success of the organization. We are grateful for his service.

We have a longstanding partnership with Dr. Phillips Charities and have enjoyed an overall positive working relationship with the organization’s representatives, including Ken’s two predecessors. We look forward to working with the organization's next representative.

On fundraising

To date, the arts center team has raised $184 million in private philanthropy, including $7.5 million this past fiscal year. We’ve received an average of 1,500 new gifts (at multiple giving levels) each year since we’ve opened, reaching well over 8,500 total new donors.

And we have about $5.7 million to go for the completion of the capital project.

Our operations are strong, and we've exceeded expectations every year, achieving a modest net profit over our five-year operating period. That net profit allows us to put resources back into our operations and help us carry out our mission-based work. Since opening, we've been able to provide $11 million in value for community support, including: 
•    scholarships for underserved kids
•    free performances
•    educational opportunities for participants of all ages
•    a nationally recognized clinical arts research initiative in partnership with AdventHealth
•    a seven-county, 50 high-school musical theater competition
•    an eight-month "Disney Musicals in Schools" program in five Title 1 schools
•    rental offset for theater and event space
•    student and veteran rush tickets
•    150 annual silent auction items for non-profit organizations
Finally, we've also raised $4 million for an endowment, with our goal to reach $25 million within five years of the opening of Steinmetz Hall.

On Steinmetz Hall cost and timing

Construction of Steinmetz Hall is currently on budget and on track to open in fall 2020 as planned. We are monitoring two items impacting the budget – concrete and electrical costs – and will continue to do so as construction progresses.

Prior to construction, our Building and Executive Committees, along with our Board of Directors and the City, agreed to move forward with two adjustments:

• Expanding the lobby infrastructure to provide a seamless connection between the front- and back-of-house areas. This adjustment will increase access to all performance spaces, enhance facility operations and maximize the use of The Green Room for public use. These building components will be included in the project if the funding is available. We have committed to raise an additional $4 million to cover the costs of these adjustments.

• Joyce and Judson Green, for whom The Green Room is named, have committed an additional $1 million to further enhance the room’s performance environment. Plans are currently in development and will be designed to elevate the experience of both artists and audiences. This gift is in addition to the Greens’ previous $5 million gift."

DOWNLOAD: Free WFTV News & Weather Apps

Not near a TV? Click here to watch WFTV newscasts live

Watch Live: Doppler 9 HD 

Comments on this article