Opera House Regroups with New Plan, Newport This Week

 Chuck Berlinghof is overseeing Opera House construction on behalf of the Newport Performing Arts Center Board. (Photo by Dan McManus)

Chuck Berlinghof is overseeing Opera House construction on behalf of the Newport Performing Arts Center Board. Dispelling rumors that the nearly $26 million plan to renovate the former Newport Opera House into the Newport Performing Arts Center was in financial trouble, organizers have announced that new talent is steering the massive project through turbulent waters.

The public is invited to see the new plans when the historic building opens its doors to guests on Oct. 6, from noon to 6 p.m., during the Broadway Street Fair.

“This past spring, the board of directors decided that we needed to step back and make sure all of the proper components were in order before launching Phase 2 of this project,” said John Cratin, chair of the board of directors.

“This included hiring Andrea Rounds as our new executive director after the former executive director, Brenda Nienhouse, had to retire due to health reasons. We worked with a programming consultant, who is also a promoter and booking agent within the New England market, to reaffirm our business model and understanding of what will be presented on the stage at the theater once we open,” he said.

 Andrea Rounds Andrea RoundsThe board also took on what Cratin called, “additional talent,” that he said will help them work through a financial plan that includes the utilization of federal and state tax credits.

“We decided to realign some of the team, so that we had the best possible talent in place to carry us into and through Phase 2,” he said.

He credited Rounds and board member Alison Vareika for what will be vital organizational and fundraising contributions, going forward.

“We continue to operate,” Cratin said. “We are laser-focused on taking the proper steps to raise the needed funds to complete the project. Andrea’s leadership is critical as she brings an extensive development background to the team…That is our primary priority right now.”

“Some of you have expressed concerns about not seeing activity on the project, but important work has been going on behind the scenes since you last heard from us,” he wrote.

He confirmed that more than 900 people and entities had made contributions to what he called, “A once in a generation community project.” Nearly $10 million in gifts and pledges are in place, revising the budget to $25.6 million for the project.

“Ideally, we want to raise the remaining funds of roughly $16 million without drawing on the anticipated $5 million in federal and state tax credits, so these funds can be earmarked for establishing a programming endowment and capital reserves,” Cratin told supporters.

Although people haven’t seen what he called, “the hammers swinging outside the building,” the nonprofit group’s business plan has been retooled over the past few months, working with arts and entertainment consultants to develop a detailed programming analysis that he said “reaffirmed our assumptions about the types of performances that eventually will be presented on the Opera House stage.”

Active discussions concerning partnerships with the Newport Folk and Jazz Festival foundations and other stakeholders in the cultural community are vital, Cratin said, “to rounding out our programming and business model and to fulfilling our mission.”

No timetable was given for the completion of Phase 2. “Achieving our ambitious goal for Phase 2 will require a bold vision, because the Newport Performing Arts Center is more than just a restoration of an historic building,” Cratin said.

“We believe it will be the beating heart of Newport, uniting all members of the community in celebration of the performing arts.”

— By James Merolla

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