Wheeler Opera House wants out-of-state firm to book acts | AspenTimes.com

Wheeler Opera House wants out-of-state firm to book acts

A Rhode Island firm has beat out the Belly Up Aspen nightclub as the Wheeler Opera House's preferred booking agency for 2018, but City Council will have the final word on the decision at its meeting today.

Professional Facilities Management Inc. and Belly Up were the sole parties that vied for the $100,000 contract through a request-for-proposals process that began in October. A committee comprised of Wheeler employees and a Wheeler board member selected the out-of-state firm.

"Basically, the difference between the two proposals is that Professional Facilities Management brings a full experience in diversity of the programming which we do — family shows, theater and Broadway music, magic shows, where the Belly Up is primarily focused on music," said Gena Buhler, the Wheeler's executive director, on Friday.

The contract is on the consent calendar of City Council, which meets at 5 p.m. today. The council could opt to review the agreement and talk over the matter before making a decision, or it could approve it without any discussion.

Buhler, as well as an executive with Professional Facilities Management, which is based in Providence, will be at the meeting. Belly Up owner Michael Goldberg declined to talk about the matter Friday.

"Because this is subject to city approval, I'd just rather not comment at the moment," he said.

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Belly Up, with a 450-person capacity for shows except for seated concerts (325 capacity), and the 503-seat Wheeler are Aspen's two primary venues for national music acts on a year-round basis. They have, however, partnered on some concert productions at the Wheeler, such as The Beach Boys in December 2016, Clint Black in March, and the upcoming performances by Infamous Stringdusters on New Year's Eve and Trombone Shorty on Feb. 2.

Buhler, at the directive of City Council, also is formalizing an agreement with Belly Up "as it relates to working in a non-competitive and collaboration way," says a memo from Buhler to the City Council.

"Both entities agree that a relationship of collaboration is beneficial not only to both business models but to the Aspen community at large," continues the memo. "The missions of each entity are different, the common goal of bringing quality music to Aspen and the great Roaring Fork Valley is a shared goal. Working together instead of against each other limits direct competition between public and private venues, and dissuades artist agents/representatives from creating a bidding war between each venue. This understanding is currently being finalized and will be presented to council in the coming weeks."

Professional Facilities Management's website notes it currently books acts for a dozen venues, including Villar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek; Palace Theater in Waterbury, Connecticut; Lyric Opera House in Baltimore; and Providence Performing Arts Center.

Buhler worked with the firm during her time as theatre director at Villar Performing Arts Center, before she took the Wheeler reins in spring 2015. She also worked with the company this past summer on a pilot program that resulted in its booking the 2018 Aspen Laugh Festival, which will bring such national headliners as Paula Poundstone, Colin Jost, Jeff Ross, Mike Birbiglia and Tiffany Haddish. The Wheeler stand-up comic series runs Feb. 20 through Feb. 24.

The contract would take effect Jan. 1, with the Wheeler paying Professional Facilities Management out of its operations budget. The City Council OK'd the funding request as part of a supplemental request Nov. 27.

The Wheeler House has a projected $4.63 million in expenses in 2018.

It also is projected to have 248 total performance days this year, up from 218 in 2016, 160 in 2015, 174 in 2014 and 163 in 2013, according to city records. It is projected to have 277 performance days in 2018.

An agreement between the Wheeler and Professional Facilities Management stipulates the firm would book a minimum of 36 main-stage events from September to August, along with a fall and summer series featuring an estimated 12 acts.

Professional Facilities Management, however, would not make independent decisions on the acts its books, with "total buy-in from the Wheeler executive director" required, according to the memo.

"It's still my curation and my direction and my artistic input," Buhler said. "But they are going to go out there and be doing the legwork."

The Wheeler's contract amounts to $100,000 for the reservations firm, with the fee increasing 3 percent annually if the contract is renewed. The contract also includes three one-year renew options.

The nonprofit Jazz Aspen Snowmass, by contrast, paid $236,150 to AEG Live Rocky Mountains, a division of AEG Presents, a Los Angeles-based promoter of concerts and music festivals, in 2014, according to its Form 990 tax return. Jazz Aspen Snowmass stages two festivals a year — one in June at the Benedict Music Tent in Aspen and a Labor Day weekend event in Snowmass. AEG handles the Labor Day Festival, including event production in the months leading up to the event, as well as the days of, and lining up talent, among other tasks.

rcarroll@aspetimes.com

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