Plano arts community rallies to retain stake in Courtyard Theater calendar The Plano Children's Theatre performs "Peter Pan" at the Courtyard Theater. The city-funded venue is home to many local arts and civic groups.[/caption]

Local arts groups had their say before the Plano City Council at a Feb. 9 regular meeting, resulting in a 7-1 vote against staff recommendations to give a Richardson theater troupe top billing at the Courtyard Theater.

Representatives spoke out against the proposal that night, arguing that the Tier 1 status should only be given to a Plano-based group.

Located in downtown Plano, the Courtyard Theater is owned and operated by Plano Stages, an extension of the city's Parks and Recreation Department.

As the city's largest public performing arts center, the 321-seat venue underwent a $6.1 million renovation in 2002. Three years later its resident company, the Plano Repertory Theatre, was dissolved.

Today the theater operates as a third-party rental space and is still without a full-time resident theater group, something Plano Stages sought to remedy in a call for artists last fall.

"I think there's a gap we're currently experiencing in programming. It's one that we haven't been able to replace since the Plano Repertory Theater left," said Amy Fortenberry, Parks and Recreation Department director.

The Courtyard Theater is home to several clients that fill at least 120 hours or 20 shows per year to meet the theater's residency requirement. This makes them eligible for grant funding through the city's hotel occupancy tax.

Plano's Theatre Britain, the Repertory Company Theatre in Richardson and the Plano Children's Theatre submitted proposals for Tier 1 status, which would grant booking priority and city funding.

A committee of city staff and fine arts teachers from the Plano ISD interviewed the candidates, scoring on strengths, programming, publicity and track record.

After review, the committee unanimously chose the Repertory Company Theatre to be the Tier 1 resident company. Its proposal included a soft launch starting with "Little Shop of Horrors" this fall, "White Christmas" in December and "Chicago" in spring 2016. The 2016-17 season would have consisted of nine main stage shows.

"The grant funding from the hotel tax [that these groups receive] is generated by people who stay in Plano hotels," Fortenberry said. "The law requires that these arts-related expenditures directly promote tourism. Children's shows that originated from Plano kids with Plano parents probably are not generating truly what the law requires of that hotel tax funding."

The RCT performs at the Promenade Theatre in Richardson. The company would have relocated to Plano under a five-year agreement.

"We've performed in the Courtyard Theater a lot. We like that space, it's great," said Debra Carter, executive artistic director for the Repertory Company Theatre. "This is entirely up to the city of Plano. We're one of the fastest-growing theaters in North Dallas. We think we fit a niche, and I think that may have been one of the things the city saw in [us]."

For now, local groups will continue to use the theater as they have for years until city staff decides to revisit the issue. PCT board president Darrell Rodenbaugh said the concept will work if more venues become available in Plano.

"What it told us was that we need to do a better job of satisfying some of the local community's entertainment needs," Rodenbaugh said. "We are going to work aggressively to do that and to enhance our programing."