Officials say continuity won't be a problem with M. John Richard stepping in as new Arsht Center head
By Risa Polansky
There's to be a change in leadership at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts less than a year after the one-two punch of a new head and a massive donation began turning the once-ailing venue around — but officials are confident the shift won't interrupt the center's upward climb.
"We believe there's a lot of continuity," said J. Ricky Arriola, chairman of the Performing Arts Center Trust Board of Directors.
M. John Richard, the trust's pick to succeed interim President and Chief Executive Officer Lawrence Wilker, has been kept in the loop of Arsht Center goings on since officials zeroed in on him as a top choice, Mr. Arriola said.
"Things heated up with John at least over the last six months."
A selection committee began scouting for CEOs soon after Mr. Wilker agreed late last year to step in on an interim basis for booted head Michael Hardy, voted out by the trust's executive committee in the midst of ongoing financial issues at the center.
"John was the most qualified candidate to lead us into the next decade," Mr. Arriola said of Mr. Richard, who is to begin Dec. 8.
Agreed center benefactor and namesake Adrienne Arsht: "It's a no-brainer."
Shortly after Mr. Wilker's appointment, Ms. Arsht in January began the turnaround of the center's oft-discussed funding woes, announcing the $30 million donation that changed the institution's name and direction.
Since its opening, the county has been pumping millions into the nearly half-billion-dollar center to help cover cost overruns.
It closed its first fiscal year in 2007 with a $2.5 million shortfall, even after a $4.1 million bailout from Miami-Dade County that brought government support of the center to nearly $8 million.
Last month, the center was able to finish out fiscal 2008 with an operating surplus, requiring about $1.4 million less from the county than expected.
Programming and attendance also saw a transformation.
Before Mr. Wilker and colleague Scott Shiller jumped aboard, the center closed for much of its inaugural summer.
This summer, it hosted more than 120 events, saw more than135,000 patrons and generated nearly $3.5 million in revenue from ticket sales.
At a packed press conference last week, incoming CEO Mr. Richard called the transformation "The Miracle of 1300 Biscayne Boulevard."
"The turnaround has been absolutely extraordinary," he said.
Mr. Wilker, who has for years run a theatrical production and theater management group, is to continue to lead the Arsht Center until the changing of the guards late this year and said he expects to remain involved — perhaps on a consultancy basis — thereafter.
Mr. Shiller is to stay on.
"We have zero concern that there's going to be an interruption in the continuity at the center," Mr. Arriola said.
Mr. Richard, a nearly 20-year veteran of Newark's New Jersey Performing Arts Center, said he plans to "continue on that same path to success" paved at the Arsht Center during the past year, balancing local and big-name programs and remaining tuned in to the preferences of the community.
He promised press conference attendees a "fiscally responsible" management team and a five-year strategic plan designed to take the Arsht Center to the top.
He intends also to reach out to the business community, he added in an interview, calling the center an "economic engine for the city."
"It brings people to the downtown… makes it a vibrant community."