Sunday, August 10, 2003

Downtown isn't the only show - Newport and Dayton make strides

Northern Kentucky (No. 15) - At Newport on the Levee, the Hofbrau Haus has opened, but the IMAX Theater has closed. In May, Newport Aquarium announced a strategy to fight dropping attendance (50 percent since its 1999 opening year) with an expansion - a $4.5 million addition will include a sea otter exhibit planned for a 2004 opening. It's expected to increase attendance by about 110,000 visitors a year.

Dayton is also a mix of good news/bad news where it's too early to draw conclusions.

The well-publicized Inventing Flight, a July celebration of the centennial of the Wright Brothers and powered flight, exceeded its 600,000 attendance goal (thanks in large part to a huge turnout for the 28th annual Dayton Air Show), but finished its 17-day run at least $4 million in the red.

The Gem City does have one clear winner and that's the new Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center (No. 21). Victoria Theatre Association President Mark Leight gleefully ticks off the numbers. In its first four months of operation, there's been 256,000 attendance for 154 performances (including a long run of Dayton's first tour of Phantom of the Opera, which played through mid-July.)

Leight is (conservatively) projecting 553,000 attendance for 319 performances at the Schuster's three spaces in the 2003-04 season, "far exceeding expectations."

It's not just a case of if you build it they will come, says Leight. "It's more, 'if you build it and you make it really, really cheap to use,' they will come."

So far, the Aronoff Center is winning the battle for the well-heeled, fast-growing population of northern Hamilton County and southern Butler County. They buy as many as 20 percent of the single tickets to Aronoff Center events, but weren't nearly as visible at the Schuster in its opening months.

Whether that will remain true will be one more show to watch when the curtain rises on the 2003-04 season (without the regional premiere of The Lion King) this fall.

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