10 years later: PAC has changed life in the Fox Valley

Nov. 16, 2012

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Tony Bennett performs at a grand opening performance at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center on Nov. 25, 2002. Bennett performed on Nov. 24 at a show for Thrivent Financial for Lutherans to mark the company's 100th birthday and honor its $8 million contribution to the PAC project. Bennett's concert the following night marked the first public performance at the downtown Appleton venue. / The Post-Crescent

Biggest attendance for Broadway shows:

1. Disney’s “The Lion King” (2007)

2. “Wicked” (2009)

3. “Wicked” (2011)

4. “The Phantom of the Opera” (2004)

5. “Jersey Boys” (2011)

6. “Mamma Mia!” (2003)

7. “The Producers” (2003)

8. “Mamma Mia!” (2005)

9. “Chicago” (2004)

10. “Beauty & The Beast” (2011)

Highest grossing show:

1. Disney’s “The Lion King” (2007)

2. “Wicked” (2009)

3. “Wicked” (2011)

4. “Jersey Boys” (2011)

5. “The Phantom of the Opera” (2004)

6. “Mamma Mia!” (2003)

7. “The Producers” (2003)

8. “Les Misérables” (2011)

9. “Mamma Mia!” (2005)

10. “Mary Poppins” (2012)

Fastest sellout:

1. Boston Pops (2002)

2. B.B King (2008)

3. “A Prairie Home Companion” (2009)

4. BoDeans (2002)

5. Goo Goo Dolls (2003)

6. Bob Newhart (2006)

7. Branford Marsalis (2007)

8. African Childrens Choir (2008)

9. Willie Nelson & Family (2010)

10. “Swan Lake” (2012)


Maybe you were there when country star Martina McBride and legendary crooner Tony Bennett christened the stage at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center on Nov. 24, 2002.

Maybe you were in the audience when “Mamma Mia!” became the first of a long line of Broadway touring shows to play Appleton.

Maybe you were part of the year of anticipation that preceded the arrival of Disney’s “The Lion King” when it made its Wisconsin debut at the PAC.

Maybe you bought tickets for John Prine, Bill Cosby, Branford Marsalis, Jeff Foxworthy, Willie Nelson, Anne Murray or any number of notable artists who have played the PAC’s big stage.

Maybe you were there when Mikhail Gorbachev, one of the most significant figures of the 20th century, graced the stage of the PAC.

Related story: From the archives: Tracking long road to opening of PAC

Maybe you have embraced the joys of the Fox Valley Symphony since it made the PAC its performance home.

Maybe you attended your high school prom at the PAC.

Maybe you were among the teenagers who had your eyes opened courtesy of the annual P.A.R.T.Y at the PAC that aims to teach life-and-death lessons.

Maybe your children were part of school groups bused to the PAC for daytime performances available only to teachers and their students.

Maybe you are getting your family ready on this very day to go to the PAC for a performance of “Elf the Musical.”

Chances are pretty good that somewhere, somehow, sometime over the past 10 years you have had the good fortune to take in the wonder that is the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center and its beautiful Thrivent Financial Hall.

And well you should. The facility was nothing short of spectacular when it opened, and with a decade of wear and tear, it remains a jewel, a centerpiece of an Appleton downtown that has blossomed in many ways since 2002.

It’s difficult to argue that the presence of the PAC has not had an overwhelmingly positive impact on the quality of life for not just Appleton but the entire Fox Valley. From the level of available arts and entertainment offerings to the growth of the restaurant and entertainment district in Appleton’s downtown to the uptick in the region’s attractiveness as a tourism destination, the PAC has been everything its supporters said it would be when they were pitching their vision a dozen years ago.

While there were many skeptics when PAC construction plans first started taking shape, they are few and far between these days.

Do you remember the concerns?

The insatiable fund-raising needs of the PAC would dry up contributions to other nonprofits. Didn’t happen.

The hotel room tax would hinder Fox Cities tourism. Didn’t happen.

The PAC would so dominate the local entertainment realm that local arts groups would lose their audience and quickly fade to black. Didn’t happen.

Parking and traffic would be such a quagmire on performance nights that people would stay away from downtown Appleton. Didn’t happen.

The city, which made an investment in the infrastructure to allow the PAC to be built, would quickly find itself supporting the PAC’s operations. Didn’t happen.

The enthusiasm of donors who helped bring the PAC to fruition would fade, leaving the PAC to stay afloat on ticket sales alone. Didn’t happen.

The size of the Fox Cities wouldn’t be able to deliver audiences large enough to keep Broadway tours coming. Didn’t happen.

The PAC has delivered exactly what its proponents said it would. And for that, they should be applauded.

Does that mean all is perfect? Of course not.

There is always concern that so much of the ticket revenue that comes in for the Broadway shows leaves town. There is always concern that donor dollars that help the PAC meet its financial shortfalls will someday dry up. There is always concern that a new generation of supporters won’t embrace the PAC with the same passion and generosity that the initial supporters have shown. And there is always concern that as this once-new facility starts to age that the monies for upkeep and modernization will be unavailable.

But that’s just part of the business of running a performing arts center. PAC leaders are in the process as we speak of ratcheting up its fund-raising campaign to bolster an endowment fund that is key to its long-term financial health. And PAC officials will be releasing its annual report to the community shortly after Thanksgiving, shining new light on the facility’s financial health.

The financial health of the PAC is worthy of close inspection. It was 10 years ago. It is today. And it will be 10 years from now.

The big picture, though, is much clearer than it was 10 years ago. With a decade of hindsight, we now know this: the presence of the PAC in the Fox Cities is an absolute blessing. Ditto for those whose vision, generosity and grit made it happen.

— Ed Berthiaume: 920-993-1000, ext. 213, or eberthiaume@postcrescent.com

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