Losing money, Orpheum hopes for path to sustainability

In the nearly three years since the renovated Orpheum Theater has opened downtown, it has brought with it dozens of unique events and activities that were never possible before.

What it hasn’t brought is a profit.

The Iowa Valley Community College District operates the Orpheum, and its budget deficit has Chancellor Chris Duree concerned.

The budget deficit for the current fiscal year at the Orpheum is estimated to be $236,920.

“We think it’s at a point where it’s too high right now,” Duree said.

Running on deficit budgets has been the norm for the first few years of the theater center. Last year, the Orpheum lost $222,046.

Duree said many college programs operate on a budget deficit like the Orpheum, but there is enough concern to form a committee made up of college leaders to look into where the theater can cut costs and boost revenues to curb that deficit.

Duree said the Orpheum and its programs have put Iowa Valley on the local, state and national stage. The community events, gatherings and weekly movies have made it a popular place. The revenues don’t reflect that popularity in this case, but Duree said the theater’s purpose fits into the mission of being a community college.

“It’s part of our community outreach, but it doesn’t necessarily help the bottom line,” Duree said.

The facility was part of the $35 million IVCCD bond issue passed in 2006 and used $3 million in taxpayer money for its renovation. The theater opened back to the public in 2010 after its renovation.

Duree said the college leadership at the time the bond passed may not have been as forward-looking as it could have been when it comes to the budget and operation of the theater. Consideration was not given by previous administrators to the cost of the equipment and staff needed to run this type of facility, Duree said.

Orpheum Director Pip Gordon said fine arts centers like the Orpheum typically do not start out in the black financially and need about five-to-seven years to work toward sustainability.

“Are we concerned about (the budget deficit)? Sure. Is it surprising? No,” Gordon said.

She said those who give regional and national grants want to see a history of programming first before cutting the check.

“We are in a place in time where we have proved ourselves in programs,” Gordon said. “You’ve got to have something to show as a track record to get the bigger grants.”

Gordon said it’s important to remember fine arts centers are not run like businesses.

“It’s a charitable endeavor,” Gordon said. “It’s a different playing field.”

Gordon said the Orpheum has created partnerships in the community and offered programs that make Marshalltown unique as a small town in Iowa. The Orpheum remains committed to the community now and into the future, she said.

Through it all, Duree said the community has been very supportive of the Orpheum, saying the volunteer guild has nearly 100 people.

“There are many patrons that are extremely loyal to the function of the Orpheum,” Duree said.