Kissimmee Commissioners weigh options for downtown performing arts center

Repurposing the Kissimmee Civic Center into a performance center that could compete with venues in the Orlando region could cost anywhere from $20 million to $50 million, a consultant told city commissioners on Tuesday.

City Commissioners hired Convention, Sports & Leisure International (CSL) in May to evaluate the existing building's potential as an 1,000-seat arts venue. Principal John Kaatz presented his preliminary findings under various development scenarios. 

"What we’ve found is Orlando metro area has a lot of facilities you’ll be competing with," Kaatz said Tuesday night.

He told commissioners the city's demographics don't necessarily support a high-end, dedicated performing arts center, and the proposed seating capacity would make it difficult to attract top-line performers without charging higher ticket prices. 

"You may not be the first choice for some of those events," he said. "On the other hand, Kissimmee today is not going to be Kissimmee tomorrow."

The downtown redevelopment and high-tech research park at NeoCity are expected to bring higher paying jobs and more residents with disposable income who want top-quality entertainment downtown.

But promoters have only a tepid interest in booking concerts and Broadway shows in Kissimmee. "If I had to characterize what I heard from promoters, it’s wait and see or I might give it a try," Kaatz said.

On the contrary, the Orlando Philharmonic, the Orlando Symphony and the Russian Ballet all expressed a great deal of interest in expanding their reach into Osceola County, he added. 

Mayor Jose Alvarez said city leaders should be building for the future.

"Every city that builds a center like that, they took a chance," he said. "The performing arts, I think is great for the future and great for the people coming in. I don’t want those people to move here and then get on SunRail and go to Dr. Phillips (Center for the Performing Arts) in Orlando to see a show."

Osceola commissioners have tentatively earmarked $10 million of Tourist Development Tax reserves to help finance the building's renovation. And Osceola Arts, which is led by County Commission Chairman Brandon Arrington, wants to take over management of the new facility.

OA COO Jeremiah Krivinchuk said the organization believes it could book 150 events per year at the facility if the city agreed to turn over the management. "We love the feel of downtown, and we see the growth that happening downtown. And it just feels right to have a  performing arts center in the downtown district," he said.

Marketing Director Bri Stefek projects that OA could raise another $5 million to $8 million through a combination of naming rights, grants, corporate gifts and online fundraising.

Kaatz outlined four different development scenarios for the civic center. In each case, he recommended relocating the basketball gym and fitness center to a new recreation center, at a cost of $5 million to $7 million. 

"I’m looking at this like it’s my money," he said. "If we transform the facility, we need to move basketball and open gym elsewhere."

Rather than converting the civic center to a performing arts center and risk losing the banquet and trade show business to Osceola Heritage Park, Kaatz recommended upgrading the building to a multipurpose facility with removable seats on carpeted risers and new stage with acoustical curtains. A renovation like that would cost around $15 million.

"Maybe you don't get Broadway shows, but you could do everything else," he said. "It's the best bang for the buck."

But city officials said they would need to know if Osceola County would still commit $10 million for a multipurpose facility.  

"We don't know if that money is predicated on it being a full-time performing arts center with fixed seating," City Manager Mike Steigerwald said.

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