Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Commentary: What does the Jim Rideoutte retirement mean for the Naples Players?

Jim Rideoutte
John Sorey
Less than two hours after the Naples Players dropped the bombshell that Naples Mayor John Sorey would replaces longtime executive director Jim Rideoutte as the head of one of the city's oldest and strongest arts organizations, here's my reaction.

Mostly, I have questions.

- What does this mean for Sorey's continue political role with the city, in particular his vote on a city council that wrangles with questions of how to balance promoting downtown events versus residents seeking quality of life?

The Naples Players lease the land that Sugden Community Theatre, one of the most valuable plots of land along Fifth Avenue South, sits on from the city at extremely favorable terms. IRS Form 990 for 2010, the most current year available, show the plot worth $4.137M.

The impact and optics of this decision are large. I'm not sure the Naples Players looked beyond the benefits of having the mayor move from one side of the conference table to the head seat.

Any decision made in regards to marketing Fifth Avenue South or downtown as a whole will affect the Naples Players. Even a simple zoning case for Phil McCabe's new restaurant or a noise variance could bring a potential conflict of interest into play.

By some counts, Sorey should recuse himself from any potential vote on downtown events Wednesday night, as Sugden Plaza hosts events ranging from Wines around the World to political rallies to National Public Radio broadcasts - all of which bring traffic, tourists, shoppers and patrons to Fifth Avenue South. 

Sugden Community Theatre sits squarely in the middle of downtown Naples, enjoying prime access to two parking garages, restaurants and more. Any discussion of the city, be it revitalization, live entertainment permits, parking, a third parking garage, art festivals or more will now - by necessity - put a spotlight on whether the mayor is voting in the best interests of the Naples Players or the city.

This issue is not going away. 

- Whither Gulfshore Playhouse? Another, even larger question that nobody wants to ask, will be the future of Gulfshore Playhouse.

Gulfshore Playhouse currently resides (and pays rent) in the city-owned Norris Center. A proposal to expand the Norris Center collapsed in the summer of 2012. Kristen Coury wants a theater, preferably on Fifth Avenue South. Will Sorey, now the head of a competing arts organization, oppose Gulfshore's efforts to build/buy a space in the area?  Or will he recognize the synergies that a second theatre can bring to downtown?

- Does the mayor of Naples have time to run the business arm of the Naples Players, no matter how financially healthy it is? Sorey told the Naples Daily News in February of 2012 that he worked 125 hours a month while a council member and expected to work 200 hours a month while mayor.

Still, the Naples Players are in robust financial health. The IRS Form 990 for the the year 2010 shows investments of $4.69M. Every other community theater in Southwest Florida would sacrifice their artistic director to have that kind of cash in the bank.

- Does the pick make sense? And who made it?

This is the big question.

John Sorey has been involved with the Naples Players for years. So has his wife Delores. The pair have been longtime benefactors and fundraisers - and close friends and social companions of Jim and Chris Rideoutte. Delores Sorey and Chris Rideoutte even co-chaired the Naples Players 60th Anniversary Gala. The Soreys have also hosted a fundraiser for the theater at their home.

His understanding of local government and familiarity with the community, plus an affable style and politician's manner should be a major asset to the organization. Jim Rideoutte was rarely the public face of an institution that lacked one - even though it was desperately needed. Low-key Dallas Dunnagan, the artistic director, has never been the type to seek the cameras.

Still, I wish the entire process had been made much more transparent.

1 comment:

  1. Would he have input into artistic decisions or play selection, I wonder? I assume that's entirely up to the Producing Artistic Director, yes?