Omaha Performing Arts brought the city more than Lily Tomlin, "Spamalot" and Blue Man Group last year.
The nonprofit purveyor of performances generated $31.6 million in economic activity and the equivalent of 400 jobs in Douglas County in 2011, according to a new study by two University of Nebraska economists.
Over the past five years, the arts group's economic impact totaled $128.5 million in salaries, restaurant meals, hotel stays and other goods and services, according to the study, generating $1.54 million in local and state taxes.
Joan Squires, president of Omaha Performing Arts, is presenting the study's results today to the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce's directors. The arts group also is starting to raise money for an endowment fund to provide long-term financial support for the Holland Performing Arts Center, which it owns, and the Orpheum Theater, which it manages and maintains under a contact with the City of Omaha.
"This is the next stage in our evolution," Squires said in an interview. "We have two world-class venues, and we want to ensure that they are here for future generations."
She said she wants the chamber's leaders, who represent Omaha's business community, to hear about the economic impact. Omaha Performing Arts has built a track record worthy of support, she said, and the study bolsters the case for an endowment fund.
"Sometimes the arts are represented in a separate category," said Squires, who has master's degrees in music and business administration from the University of Michigan. "It's not understood that we're a major business as well. We wanted to document and demonstrate the significant impact we have."
The $12,000 study was conducted by economists Eric Thompson from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Bureau of Business Research and Christopher Decker from the University of Nebraska at Omaha's College of Business Administration. They analyzed the arts group's annual budget, oversaw in-person interviews of patrons attending the musical "Jersey Boys" and a concert by bluegrass singer Alison Krauss and used data from online surveys.
In a sense, Squires said, the report shows the benefit of the $85 million in private donations and $15 million in city funds that built the Holland Center and renovated the Orpheum. "This is what that investment is now producing for our community," she said.
The study estimates the economic activity added by Omaha Performing Arts' 186 events in 2011 at the Orpheum and the Holland Center.
It did not count revenue from other groups that used the facilities, such as the Omaha Symphony and Opera Omaha; special events such as weddings and meetings; or activities that the arts group sponsors elsewhere, such as Jazz on the Green. Those events aren't considered part of the arts group's addition to the city's economy, Squires said.
Thompson said he made reasonable assumptions that do not overestimate the impact each year from 2007 through 2011.
He used similar calculations to estimate the Henry Doorly Zoo's economic impact in 2009 at $101.2 million.
The Omaha Performing Arts study estimated how much "new" money was spent because of the arts group's events. About 6 percent of the total was "retained" in Omaha by people who otherwise would have traveled to other cities for similar entertainment.
"It's a substantial economic impact on the community, and it's a year-round opportunity," Thompson said. "It's one of the leading sources of economic impact among the events in the state."
Thompson, who has studied trends in cultural economics, said his Omaha Performing Arts study didn't assign a dollar figure to the value of people who live and work in Omaha and create wealth here partly because of groups such as Omaha Performing Arts.
But he cited other studies that have found that a city's vibrant arts community attracts and keeps entrepreneurs, top-level managers and other professionals.
"I think the arts institutions in Omaha and around the country affect local economies both in terms of raising property values and in attracting workers, because they raise the quality of life," he said.
The economists' calculations did add up Omaha Performing Arts' spending on operations and capital improvements, off-site spending by audience members and off-site spending by performers while in Omaha.
Performers uniformly praise both the Orpheum and the Holland Center, Squires said, and often say Omaha is lucky to have two such performance venues.
The Orpheum's proscenium theater provides staging systems for Broadway-style shows, ballets, operas and performances that use sets and backdrops. The Holland's concert and recital halls offer top-quality acoustics and performing spaces.
The Orpheum, although built in 1927, has been renovated and functions well, Squires said, but the 85-year-old building requires upkeep such as the new roof and stage floor installed last year. "I don't see an end in sight" for the Orpheum's useful life, she said. "The Orpheum is beloved."
The Holland Center opened in 2005 and is still in its early years, but recent capital expenses included installing a full kitchen to provide food for events.
"The carpet's starting to wear out now," Squires said. "We've got a lot of traffic through here. We want to make sure it's maintained at the highest levels. It's a landmark structure, and it's important that we serve as good stewards of it."
The arts group has a yearly operating budget that is about 20 percent covered by contributions from donors and 80 percent from revenue generated by performances.
That 80 percent share is high for a nonprofit arts group, Squires said, but 100 percent is not possible. "It'll never pay for itself — ever," she said.
In addition, the arts group receives the city's $2-per-seat ticket tax at the Orpheum for theater maintenance.
From the economists' report:
>> Omaha Performing Arts sold 282,000 tickets to its events in 2011, about 40 percent purchased by people living outside Douglas County, including 18 percent outside Nebraska.
>> The economic impact on Nebraska was $98.3 million from 2007 through 2011. The amount is smaller than the Douglas County impact because it does not count spending by people from Lincoln and other Nebraska communities as an added economic impact for the state.
>> The "multiplier effect" accounts for secondary spending, because direct spending, such as salaries, keeps moving through the economy. The multiplier averaged 82 cents for every $1 of direct spending.
>> Of Omaha Performing Arts' $18.65 million in revenue last year, $14.3 million came from tickets, food, the gift shop and other sales; $4.16 million from private donations; and about $160,000 from state and federal government arts agencies.
>> Outside groups held 80 events at the Holland Center and Orpheum last year, attended by about 14,700 people.
>> An estimated 118,600 people spent additional money before or after Omaha Performing Arts events. The study estimated their average spending at $53.94, including $26.62 for food, $9.36 for retail goods, $9.97 for transportation, $5.63 for lodging, $1.70 for other entertainment, 61 cents for child care and 5 cents for "miscellaneous."
>> Over the past five years the arts group generated 1,771 "job years" — the equivalent of 1,771 people working for one year each.
Contact the writer: