Robertses want a close look at Philadelphia Theatre Company

Suzanne and Ralph Roberts want a clear picture of the Philadelphia Theatre Company's finances and future before providing more aid. The theater is named for her.
Suzanne and Ralph Roberts want a clear picture of the Philadelphia Theatre Company's finances and future before providing more aid. The theater is named for her. (MIKE COPPOLA / Getty Images)
Posted: May 16, 2014

Philadelphia philanthropists Ralph and Suzanne Roberts may provide a gift that could resolve the Philadelphia Theatre Company's financial struggle, but first, they have asked for help in determining whether the company is viable.

The Comcast Corp. founder and his wife have hired outgoing Kennedy Center president Michael M. Kaiser to examine the theater's finances and operations. He is expected to issue a report at the end of May to help guide their next step.

"I think, in this case, Ralph and Suzanne want to do the right thing, but have significant financial concerns about the future of the company," said Kevin Feeley, their spokesman. They asked Kaiser to look at PTC "from a managerial, governance, and financial point of view to determine if the company can be viable, and if so, under what conditions," he said.

PTC, whose 365-seat theater was named after Suzanne Roberts in recognition of the couple's $4.5 million gift in 2006, never finished the fund-raising campaign to pay for its home, adjacent to Symphony House. It moved in in 2007. According to tax returns, more than $11 million was still owed to TD Bank in August 2012; PTC stopped payments that May.

The bank foreclosed during talks to renegotiate, according to theater leaders. Kaiser's report will consider PTC's viability under the assumption the mortgage would be paid off.

PTC board chairman E. Gerald Riesenbach said he welcomed the scrutiny. "We have a great deal of respect for Michael Kaiser. He knows the performing arts infrastructure extremely well, and he has substantial Philadelphia market experience. So we are pleased to have him look at us and talk to us about the future."

The Robertses have continued to support PTC since their naming gift. In 2011, they pledged $1 million over five years. In 2012, they offered $5 million to be held as endowment by a third party, with PTC the annual beneficiary of $250,000 or 5 percent of the value of the endowment, whichever would be greater in a given year.

But the offer was contingent on PTC's paying off its mortgage debt and raising $5 million for endowment. "PTC was unable to reach an accommodation with its lender and therefore was unable to meet those conditions," Riesenbach said. "At this time, PTC has requested that the Robertses make a gift well in excess of the $5 million endowment commitment that will put PTC on a strong financial footing and will allow PTC to remain in . . . the Suzanne Roberts Theatre."

Asked to define the "well in excess" aspect of PTC's request, Riesenbach said, "I am sure that Mr. Kaiser's report will have an effect on that amount."

Said Feeley, "It is the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, it is very close to Suzanne's heart. . . . The number is to be determined."

Riesenbach said he did not doubt that it was possible for the theater to be viable. "Without the debt," he said, "I think we can have an extremely bright and successful future."


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