Rochester oversight committee recommends changes for Civic Theatre

A white theater building connected to another.
The Rochester Civic Theater, part of the Mayo Civic Center, seen in Rochester, Minn., on Thursday, Feb. 6.
Evan Frost | MPR News

A Rochester city oversight committee Wednesday detailed a proposal to change the way the city supports the Rochester Civic Theatre.

The recommendations come in the wake of the abrupt resignation of the theater’s director and recent revelations that the organization is struggling financially.

The theater operates out of the Mayo Civic Center building, which is owned by the city of Rochester. It receives funding from the city for building maintenance and general operations.

The city council subcommittee was put in place two years ago to oversee the use of that funding, and first learned about the Civic Theatre’s financial issues before a routine check-in meeting in late January. Its proposal is part of a larger report that outlines the city’s understanding of how the theater ended up in financial trouble.

Proposed changes include incorporating the theater into the Mayo Civic Center's governance and operating structure, which recently underwent a major overhaul after city officials learned it was losing money.

The recommendations also suggest opening the theater space to other arts groups in Rochester, and requiring a detailed conflict of interest policy for organizations involved in the collaboration.

Meanwhile, at the city's request, the theater has paid back $150,000 of its annual $200,000 taxpayer subsidy. The city says it will use the money as needed to reimburse the theater for maintenance and utility payments going forward.

Financial dire straits

A glass building with white pillars.
The Mayo Civic Center seen in Rochester, Minn., on Thursday, Feb. 6.
Evan Frost | MPR News

According the theater’s financial documents, it lost roughly $461,000 and missed some tax and payroll payments in the 2019 fiscal year. In the fall of 2019, the theater took out a $300,000 loan to cover expenses without alerting city officials.

It’s not clear how the theater’s finances and proposed recommendations will affect the theater’s upcoming season.

“We’re going to have to look at it,” board president Jeff Haynes said at Tuesday’s meeting. “I don’t know at this point.”

The recommendations are part of a draft report that the oversight committee is considering submitting to the city council. If the report is submitted to the full council, it would be subject to debate and could change.

The report singles out former executive director Kevin Miller, who resigned in mid-January, and the theater’s board, under the leadership of its former president Kay Hocker, for the organization’s poor performance.

“There haven’t been documents that have held responsible parties accountable and create a clear public record of missteps,” said city council member Michael Wojcik, who sits on the oversight committee and drafted the report.

Hocker declined to comment. She is regional manager for Minnesota Public Radio in Rochester, and was the theater board president from the middle of 2017 until the end of 2019. She is not a member of the MPR News newsroom.

Kevin Miller did not respond to calls from MPR News.

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