Fox Tucson Theatre is suspending all programming through December, effectively shuttering the historic downtown venue through 2020.
This is the third time the Fox, 17 W. Congress St., has hit pause; it was the first Tucson venue to cancel programs at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic back on March 12 — the same day Tucson Mayor Regina Romero banned gatherings of 50 or more and before Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey issued his stay-home orders that closed bars and limited restaurants to takeout.
The Rialto Theatre and Hotel Congress at the other end of Congress followed the Fox’s lead back in March.
Fox’s decision, announced Monday, comes after considering dozens of alternative programming models.
“We explored a lot of options. You don’t even want to see the spreadsheet,” said Fox Executive Director Bonnie Schock, who said some ideas included focusing on local and regional acts and showing films. “But the economics in our venue are such that it is not financially viable to run events at 25% capacity, even if the artist fees are considerably lower because they are local. It just doesn’t work in our venue.”
Schock said the Fox, as part of its COVID-19 closure, had to reduce its staff from 40 to four to preserve its finances and ensure it would be able to return in 2021.
The Fox received $183,000 in federal payroll protection plan funds, but those funds are now gone. The idea behind the federal Payment Protection Program, or PPP, was to help businesses pay employees during the time they were closed.
But with Arizona’s coronavirus cases continuing to rise, Fox officials say it is impossible to consider reopening anytime soon.
“The board and I are focused on preserving resources and capacity for when we are able to open so that we can,” Schock said. “That requires us to take some pretty significant, maybe perceived to be dramatic, steps so that we can preserve that core and make sure that we have adequate capitol in order to restart when the time is right.”
When they announced in March plans to postpone their spring season, Fox officials were optimistic that by late spring/early summer, they would be open again. But in April, as the health crisis came in fuller focus, Fox officials announced plans to keep the doors shut through August, adding they would assess the situation in the summer.
“The whole industry thought this was going to be a brief pause for a couple of weeks,” Schock said, adding that most artists and arts management companies also have canceled any plans for live shows in the second half of 2020.
Fox Theatre already has some confirmed rescheduled dates for 2021, all of which are tentative depending on the pandemic’s course.
“The aim is to try to ramp that back up as quickly as we can, but of course that will have to be in response to the reality that is around us,” Schock said.
Meanwhile, the Tucson Arena at 260 S. Church Ave. is taking a wait-and-see approach to the handful of shows still on its books.
“We’re taking these shows each one as they come up — where will we be in the reopening parameters,” said Glen Grabski, Tucson Convention Center general manager.
The TCC had to permanently furlough about 40 of its full-time employees; another 200 people are employed at the downtown campus as event staff also are out of work.
Those employees only work when there are events at the Convention Center, Music Hall, Leo Rich Theatre or Tucson Arena.
The TCC has about a dozen full-time employees remaining, most of whom have had to take some sort of furlough through the health crisis.
Shows still on the TCC schedule include Marco Antonio Solís on Aug. 29; Foreigner on Oct. 7; and British funnyman John Cleese on Nov. 9. But Grabski said those shows can only happen if the state’s coronavirus numbers dramatically improve, which would allow venues to open up to larger crowds.
“Opening at 25% (capacity) wouldn’t work,” he said, adding that “right now the (coronavirus) numbers are not promising.
“The numbers are going to have to turn around here seriously,” he said.
For updates on TCC shows, visit tucsonarena.com
Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch