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Landmark Theatre is part of coalition seeking financial cushion in state budget

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The Landmark Theatre in Syracuse is one of ten theaters across upstate New York calling on the state to set aside $25 million from its pandemic relief fund to ensure their viability coming out of the pandemic.  Attendance still hasn’t returned to normal levels.

Uncertainty is one word that describes the pandemic, and that’s clearly the case for the Landmark and other venues that count on live audiences. But Executive Director Mike Intaglietta says tours and theater operators are very motivated to put on productions and fill the seats.

"It's been exciting to reopen. We love doing shows. We're excited for people to be coming to the theater again. We just want to be able to keep doing it in a way that makes sense for the business."

And, what makes sense, he says is easing that uncertainty in case another COVID surge keeps people away.

"It costs x dollars to host a show, and it costs x dollars whether or not there are 1,000 people in the audience or 2,500. For a lot of our venues, we don't start hitting profitability until we hit a certain level of attendance. So, if the people aren't coming, either the shows are less profitable and they're not able to cover our overhead expenses, or they actually lose money."

That’s where their proposed $25 million protection plan comes in. Intaglietta says it would provide a cushion of sorts where the state would guarantee up to 80 percent of the theater’s budgeted ticket and concession revenue if they fall short. If a theater exceeds 80 percent of their potential 2022 revenue, they would not receive assistance. He says large, historic, often former movie palaces like the Landmark often aren’t eligible for state arts funding.

"We tend to be either rental houses or presenting houses and we don't produce, at least in our big theaters, original work. That's how the Landmark is different, for example, from Syracuse Stage or the Redhouse. There's no easy bucket for us to fit into when it comes to the New York State Council on the Arts, which is where the bulk of arts funding goes in the state budget."

That’s why the Upstate Theater coalition is looking for a separate pot of money from the $350 million pandemic relief fund proposed by Governor Hochul. The coalition also includes the Stanley Theatre in Utica and others in Ithaca, Rochester, Buffalo, and Albany.

(Landmark Executive Director Mike Intaglietta is related to a WAER staff member.)

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at srwillis@syr.edu.