Daytona Beach mayor's plan to bring back LSO to make up $1.5 million deficit at Daytona State College delusional

Volusia News / continuing coverage / analysis

NSBNews.net photo / Deposed Daytona State College President Kent Sharples gives the thumbs up Nov. 18, after a separation-retirement agreement is announced by board Chairman John Tanner, shown here at left.

Daytona State College is in a world of hurt over $1.5 million taxpayer dollars used to pay the bills the Community Cultural Foundation incurred last summer when planned concerts failed to generate either public interest or money from ticket sales.

Somehow the Board of Directors of the CCF convinced the college to act as a financial backup in case not enough money was generated last September by events featuring Usher, Tony Bennett, the Jonas Brothers and others in what was billed as the "Great American Music Festival."

Because of this huge loss, Daytona Beach will not be hosting the world-renowned London Symphony Orchestra this summer.

I received a copy of a letter submitted to the Daytona Beach News-Journal (printed below with permission of the author) which describes how the LSO originally came to perform in Daytona Beach and the special relationship that developed between the members of the orchestra and our wonderful beach city.

Somehow hosting the LSO was not enough for some people in our area and they came up with the idea of “rebranding” Daytona Beach as a cultural mecca. Despite the failure last summer, Mayor Glen Ritchey and others want to lure the orchestra back to Daytona Beach in the hopes of making enough to pay back the college.

Unfortunately, this delusional thinking projects about $20,000 profit. At that rate it would be decades before taxpayers saw their money. And I would expect it to include interest.

Daytona State College President Kent Sharples “retired” with a $1.2 million get-out-of-town package last fall. He is the person who authorized payments of $500,000 to Usher, $300,000 to the Jonas Brothers, $80,000 to Tony Bennett and more to other performers.

A check of the State of Florida’s corporations shows Jeff Feasel as director/president of the organization. He sent the bills over to Sharples and Chief Financial Officer Rand Spiwak for payment. The concerts were the braintrust of CCF employee and promoter Manuel Bornia, the architect behind the previous "free" concert at the Bandshell on June 26, that ended up costing more than $233,000. He's the same promoter who initially promised a who's who rock-star line-up early in 2010, that included the likes of Janet Jackson, Christina Aguilera and Justin Bieber, that led to the "free" and watrered-down concert.

Former DSC President Kent D. Sharples did an end run around his Board of Directors and authorized any and all payment. His contract specifies no checks over $65,000 may be written by the president without board approval.

Local vendors who provided staging material, advertising, sound and other necessities had to get in line and beg in order to get paid. The biggest advertising vendor was the News-Journal at $83,000.

Many were convinced to accept reduced payments. The net result is taxpayers have suffered a huge financial loss because someone wanted to use a public institution as a slush fund.

Residents and visitors to Daytona Beach will be denied an opportunity to hear one of the world’s best orchestras.

We all lose.

© Sally Gillies / NSB News LLC 2011

Here is the letter sent to the News-Journal yesterday:

April 21, 2011 Dear Editor,

Eileen Zaffiro-Kean’s April 18th article on bringing back the London Symphony Orchestra in 2013 is a further expression of the problems that led to the suspension of the orchestra’s visits this year. While we are sure that she made every effort to cover the story as it was presented, it is clear that many of those involved are operating with inadequate and sometimes outright false information.

As three people who together managed eleven LSO visits as a part of the Florida International Festival from 1982 to 2003, we think the time has come to set the record straight in the hope that the community can resume the orchestra’s visits.

First, let us address some of the outright falsehoods in the story. At no time were family members of LSO players provided with free transportation, housing, rental cars or any entertainment out of Festival coffers. It is true that many LSO members did vacation in Daytona Beach with their families (to the benefit of the local economy), but those costs were paid by the musicians. And yes, some local citizens did provide hosting in the form of everything from post-concert parties to rounds of golf and other outings. But again, none of this was a part of any Festival budget. If anything, these courtesies benefitted the Festival by providing an environment in which orchestra members loved to come, and other donors saw the absolute best foot forward of the community. All such acts by patrons were in addition to their gifts to the Festival and buying tickets to concerts.

Everyone should keep in mind that the London Symphony Orchestra chose to name the Florida International Festival and Daytona Beach as their official American Summer Home because of the warmth and friendship they felt toward the community. This “branding” is unique in the relationship of any foreign orchestra, much less one of the international stature of the LSO, to any host community. Sadly, it was the attempt to “rebrand” this community which led to the loss of the LSO presence.

Financially, the plan being presented is pie in the sky. Those who estimated a break-even to $20,000 positive outcome were spot on. That was exactly our experience in the eleven visits we managed. Sometimes we came out a little ahead, sometimes a little behind.  

Only an unprecedented fundraising campaign, combined with extraordinary luck in everything from foreign exchange to weather will produce more than a few thousand dollars in the bank. Orchestras and festivals are non-profit for a reason. The comment that the LSO had a poor track record making money shows a lack of knowledge. No symphony orchestra in the world makes money, especially in today’s environment. In this past week both the orchestras of Philadelphia and New Mexico filed for bankruptcy.

At its core, the entire problem rests in the Community Cultural Foundation’s board and president overreaching with programming outside of the LSO. In 2009 the Daytona Beach International Festival vastly expanded its off-season programming and non-LSO events during the Festival and lost $300,000. Subsequently they undertook the American Music Festival and increased those losses to $1.6 million. It is these losses, and only these losses, that have caused everyone to lose the biennial visits of the London Symphony Orchestra. They were not caused by the LSO, or the many good people in the community who supported their visits and attended concerts. It is sad that the failure of the American Music Festival has become an albatross hung around the neck of the LSO’s visits. It is a loss to both the orchestra and the community. But the community has lost the most. The LSO will continue to be one of the world’s finest orchestras. It just won’t play at Peabody Auditorium and the Ocean Center.

The inaccurate and false information being bandied about can only hurt the community’s relationship with the LSO. Sources mischaracterized how hard the LSO worked in Daytona Beach to produce seven different programs in ten days. Most orchestras would need a month to prepare the variety we enjoyed here. All programs for Daytona Beach were especially selected with the LSO. They rehearsed in London prior to flying over as well as nearly every day they were here, even on days without concerts. The LSO always gave the Festival their best price.

In the past we had the LSO’s trust, so much so that they once forgave a debt owed in 1969 in order to return in 1982. It is no surprise that the orchestra had not returned the newspaper’s calls or the mayor’s e-mail. If the LSO is ever to return to Daytona Beach it must be with a clear understanding of what caused its cancellation this year and a realistic plan that is not unduly burdened with the mistakes of others.  

Sincerely, Monya Gilbert, DeLand; David Newman, Durham, North Carolina; Dewey Anderson, Orlando

Monya Gilbert managed the London Symphony Orchestra visits to Daytona Beach from 1982-1987, David Newman from 1987-1991, Dewey Anderson from 1991-2002, including all the planning and fundraising for the 2003 Florida International Festival. 

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Always Right by Sally Gillies
Sally Gillies of Ormond Beach, an accomplished book author, is a community blogger, who also has her own political website, SallyGillies.net. The blog, "Always Right" (and its contents), is the sole copyright-protected intellectual property of NSB News LLC, and cannot be reproduced, copied or published in whole or in part elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the publisher. NSBNews.net, VolusiaNews.net and HeadlineSurfer.com are owned by NSB News LLC. All three domains fall under the umbrella of Headline Surfer, a registered trademark.

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