9 Investigates

Orlando group reps discuss dispute over rental rates at Dr. Phillips Center

ORLANDO, Fla. — 9 Investigates has learned details about the final phase of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts set to open next year, and the local groups planning to be housed in Steinmetz Hall say they’re not getting the support, or rates, they expected.

Investigative reporter Karla Ray learned DPC officials abruptly stopped rental rate negotiations with the Orlando Ballet, Orlando Philharmonic and Opera Orlando this week after 9 Investigates started asking questions about the progress.

Phase 2 of the arts center, better known as Steinmetz Hall, is being built with more than $200 million of combined donor money and tourism tax dollars. The 1,700-seat theater is meant to house local performance groups.

“Moving into Steinmetz, which was supposed to be our destiny and this glorious thing, is looking scary right now,” Opera Orlando Executive Director Gabriel Preisser said. “I don't know how we're going to make it work.”

9 Investigates sat down with representatives from Opera Orlando, the Orlando Ballet, and the Orlando Philharmonic on Thursday. The groups are at a stalemate with the Dr. Phillips Center, as they negotiate rates to perform at Steinmetz starting in 2020.

“We are hopeful that the organizations don't have to suffer and cut programs so we can afford to be in a hall that was always built and intended to be our home,” Orlando Ballet Executive Director Shane Jewell said.

No one from the Dr. Phillips Center would speak to Eyewitness News on camera, but they told us in a statement that the rates at Steinmetz will be the lowest rent for similar venues in the state. That’s information we could not verify independently, because no one would give the figures that are being offered.

We have a long history of working with the Orlando Ballet, Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra and Opera Orlando, as well as dozens of other arts groups.  Since 2005, we have worked with their leadership to plan for their performances and rental costs in our theaters, leading to their seasons in the one-of-a-kind, world class Steinmetz Hall.  Our rates have consistently been below the average in Florida for similar venues," VP of Marketing Jackie Kelvington said in an emailed statement.  "With the Ballet and OPO being resident contracted companies, we are proud to have provided them with over $2 million in rent value and other support; we've also helped with past fundraising and marketing.  In addition, Dr. Phillips Center has hired the OPO for more than $650,000 to perform in our self-presented shows.  The Opera and more than 100 other local nonprofit arts groups have also received significant support from us – over $1 million in rent value and other support.

With regards to the proposed rental rates, Kelvington said, “For our resident contracted companies and their move into Steinmetz, we are proud to say that we are offering the lowest rent for similar venues in the state.  Based on the gradual increase schedule, the Ballet, for example, would only need to sell a minimal level of additional tickets per show to make up the difference.”

However, the representatives we spoke with said they cannot afford the current offered rates, and that will impact customers.

“Raising our rates, and raising our ticket prices to pay the rent, isn't going to work,” immediate past President of the Orlando Philharmonic Board RK Kelley said. “If we just keep raising the rates...our community can't attend.”

Though the Ballet and Philharmonic will receive the lowest rates as ‘resident groups,’ Opera Orlando will not.  Despite filling the community void by the now-defunct Orlando Opera, and a 2007 contract promising to provide a venue for the original local groups or any of their successors, Opera Orlando is not considered a resident.

“Here we are, it's about to open, this wonderful crown jewel for our community, and the three organizations it was built for, one is not even included as a resident company, and the others can't afford it,” Preisser said.

Karla Ray

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.