This story was corrected at 1:40 p.m. on Oct. 12, 2012. An explanation follows this story.
Open for more than a year, the Fillmore Silver Spring has hosted only one community event — and some nonprofits say the costs, negotiated by the county, are too high.
The lease worked out between the county and the Fillmore requires 36 community events each year in the concert hall starting September 2011.
“One of the main reasons that people ended up supporting the Fillmore project was because of the promise of public usage. And it seems now that the public has been priced out of that usage,” said Evan Glass, chairman of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board.
The state and county poured about $11.2 million into a vacant J.C. Penney store to transform it into the Fillmore, which holds 2,000 people standing and 500 seated. County Executive Isiah Leggett dropped a plan to move the Birchmere into the site and then struck a deal with Live Nation. The company is paying $100,641 a year to rent the building from the county, county spokesman Patrick Lacefield said.
County space reservations ordinarily go through the Office of Community Use of Public Facilities, but the county’s Department of Recreation handles community reservations for the Fillmore. Department director Gabriel Albornoz said the community use process started in March, and adjusted rates were not available until August for the year-old concert hall. He said now that a system is place to book the Fillmore, his department is looking to be “more aggressive” about how it makes the community aware of the discounted rates.
Though Albornoz has received about a dozen calls about the space, he said only one group applied to use it. Rock-in Schools, which took place May 5 in conjunction with Montgomery County Public Schools, featured performances from Wheaton High School, Sherwood High in Olney, Benjamin Banneker Middle in Burtonsville, Clearspring Elementary in Damascus and Roberto Clemente Middle in Germantown.
Randine Levy, a Clemente teacher and coordinator for the Rock-in Schools event, said the event raised $7,000 to purchase instruments for other middle schools in the county.
“We were the first ones and they didn’t know how they wanted to work with us,” Levy said, adding there were some “hoops” they had to jump through because there was no system yet in place. “It’s not cheap to hold an event there, but you get what you pay for because it’s The Fillmore. It’s a beautiful facility — and state-of-the-art.”
The Fillmore charges a base cost of $1,900 for the first 20 community uses of the facility each year. The next 10 have a base cost of $3,000.
According to the county’s community event rate card, the rental fee includes use of the venue, standard production, utilities, projector and drop down screen and in-house furniture. To qualify, a nonprofit organization has to run the event that is open to the public and benefits the county and its residents.
According to the lease, each year three county events and three charitable events can use the space rent free.
However, in addition to the base rate, all events face fees of $750 for clean up per day, a $200 per hour ambulance fee, a $100 per hour paramedic fee, $25 per hour fee for ticket takers and ushers, $35 per hour security fee (with a four-hour minimum) and $40 per hour fee per officer for police (with a three-hour minimum), according to the rate card. There are also fees of $2 per ticket sold, a $2,500 fee for house sound, lights and stagehand labor and $150 for a merchandise seller at the event. And the Fillmore gets 20 percent of all merchandise sales.
Glass said he supported a music venue in Silver Spring to create a stronger nightlife that would support the local restaurant and retail businesses. He said public use at the Fillmore “underscores a larger problem” of public space availability in Silver Spring.
“The Fillmore is a larger venue, and there was the belief that smaller organizations would be able to rent that space, but it seems that is cost prohibitive to many small nonprofits and organizations,” Glass said.
Leggett (D) said there are some “challenges related” to the community organizations renting the Fillmore that they are still trying to “work out.”
In negotiations with the county, Live Nation agreed to the 36 events, said Patrick Lacefield, a spokesman for the county executive.
“What we talked about was not necessarily a certain number a week or a certain number a month,” he said. “We talked about how we wanted to have some sort of county uses and tiers of uses to advance our notion of having it more available to the community than the Birchmere would’ve been.”
The Gandhi Brigade, a Silver Spring-based nonprofit organization that works with youth, considered renting the Fillmore for a fundraiser, but dropped the idea after seeing the pricing and worrying that the group might not even “break even,” said Richard Jaeggi, the group’s executive director.
“For us, it’s just not in the realm of possibility,” Jaeggi said.
Arich Berghammer, executive vice president of clubs and theaters for North America at Live Nation, said the Fillmore expects to have all 36 events every year.
“The Fillmore is a brand that is incredibly based in the community,” Berghammer said, noting that the Fillmore was picked specifically based on its community-oriented culture. “Silver Spring is a great example of the tradition of what the Fillmore believes and loves.”
The Montgomery County Council discussed the use of public space in Silver Spring — including the Fillmore — on Sept. 18. During the discussion, Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park said he found the rates agreed upon to be “obscenely high.”
“What kind of community groups have that kind of money to spend on a space which the county built and paid for with its own money,” Elrich said. “I’m at a loss to get where these rates come from and why the rates aren’t substantially lower given the income that we know is generated for the Fillmore.”
Elrich said on Sept. 24 that the Fillmore is “abiding by the terms of their contract,” but that the “community deserves better than what they’ve gotten so far.”
Editor’s note: Because of an editor’s error, this story stated the annual lease payment as $3.2 million. According to county spokesman Patrick Lacefield, that figure represents an estimation of 20 years of lease payments.