Stambaugh Management Deal Aims to Get More Use Out of DeYor

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The changes coming to the DeYor Performing Arts Center may have been hastened by the pandemic, but they had been in the works for years.

Under a deal announced this week, the DeYor will be managed by Stambaugh Auditorium. The longtime home of the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra had been losing money for at least a decade.

The board of the Youngstown Symphony Society, which owns and operates the DeYor and the orchestra, began looking into a new management framework about five years ago.

“The orchestra has not been self-sustaining for years,” said Chris Jaskiewicz, vice president of the YSS board. “In past years, the biggest problem was utility bills, which were through the roof. We fixed that by replacing the air handling unit and cut our costs dramatically.”

But money problems persisted. Attendance has been declining for years for symphony orchestras nationwide, and Youngstown is no exception. The YSS attempted to cultivate new symphony fans and boost ticket sales, launching the Stained Glass Series of free concerts several years ago, performing concerts for students and collaborating with Easy Street Productions on shows.

There was an uptick in YSO attendance last year, but the pandemic-related shutdown of entertainment venues wiped out any gains.

“What upsets me most about the pandemic is 2019 was one of our best years in terms of attendance,” Jaskiewicz said. “We sold out four or five shows.”

With its new arrangement with Stambaugh, the YSS board wants to get more use out of its building by hosting more shows and events.

“In the past we relied on the Youngstown Symphony to fund the building,” Jaskiewicz said. “Now we are flipping that and using the building to fund the orchestra… Let’s use it as many ways as possible to get money out of it.”

Jaskiewicz reiterated that the board is committed to having a professional orchestra. “But it only plays five times a year,” he said. “What about the other 360 days?”

That’s where the Stambaugh team will come in. Its goal will be to increase the number of events, and ticket sales, at DeYor’s two theaters: the 2,300-seat Powers Auditorium and the 600-seat Ford Family Recital Hall.

Matt Pagac, chief executive and operating officer for Stambaugh, said he intends to play to the strengths of each facility. One of Powers’ strengths is its ability to host touring musicals.

“Powers Auditorium is a great multi-use space and it is the only Broadway-capable house left in the city,” he said.

Powers has a fly system above its stage for raising and lowering set pieces, a requirement for many theatrical shows. It’s also easier to load in sets, which arrive by truck, onto the stage.

In 2018, Powers hosted two sold-out performances of the touring production of the Broadway smash “Jersey Boys.”

Pagac said there are “many opportunities” in this area to make use of the smaller Ford hall, which has never been heavily used. “It offers a space that we feel is needed in this market,” he said. “It’s a recital space and we intend to use it as such.”

Stambaugh Auditorium’s concert hall, which has outstanding acoustics, will continue to be used mostly for musical performances, Pagac said.

Youngstown Symphony Orchestra performances could be moved to Stambaugh at some point, Jaskiewicz added.

“Regarding banquets, both facilities offer great spaces with flexible seating capacities,” Pagac said. “Overall, DeYor and Stambaugh will be able to collectively offer more options for performances, clients and guests. Both facilities offer great historical spaces, but DeYor also offers the open and modern feel of the Eleanor Beecher Flad Pavilion and the Ford Family Recital Hall.”

The addition that houses Ford hall and Beecher pavilion opened in 2006. About five years ago, the Youngstown Symphony Society board considered a management offer from JAC Management – which operates the city-owned Covelli Centre and the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre – but did not approve it.

When the idea returned to the forefront this year, Stambaugh was the right choice.

“We had been collaborating with them for a year and a half and already had a relationship with them, so it made sense to move quickly, in this dire situation with [poor] cash flow,” Jaskiewicz said. “Stambaugh was ready to do it.”

A joint committee of members of both the Youngstown Symphony and Stambaugh boards has been meeting for the past 18 months to establish a plan to share resources and reduce costs. Stambaugh will now handle all administrative, bookkeeping, marketing, booking and fundraising duties for DeYor.

The new agreement between the two venues is a loose one. No long-term contract is in place, and there’s a possibility that a different facility manager could be found next year.

“At some point in 2021, we will put it out there as a request for quote (an invitation for bids) to see what other companies are out there,” Jaskiewicz said. “Stambaugh can reapply at that time.”

The current arrangement is “more of a performance based deal,” he said. “An agreement will get signed once we work out the details. As long as both parties continue to be happy, we’ll pay them a monthly fee [that is less than previous operating costs].”

While the new arrangement takes shape, the three-person full-time staff at the DeYor has been furloughed, including Patricia Syak, the long-time president of the Youngstown Symphony Society. Syak, who had been in charge of operations, could not be reached for comment.

Jaskiewicz said she is taking a month off, after which she will be part of a committee that will work on the new management structure. The future rehiring of Symphony staff will be up to Stambaugh, he said.

“In any [management] turnaround, the first goal is to get the numbers shaken out, get a fresh set of eyes on them,” he said. “Then you bring in [furloughed] employees and see how they can help us, get their feedback.”

Any rehiring would be done at that time.

Jaskiewicz said the team at Stambaugh has “the best interests for both venues. Bringing the two together will do more good for the Valley as a whole and make us more efficient. I think it will make things better for everyone.”

Agreements with two tenants in the DeYor complex will remain in place, said Stambaugh’s Pagac. They are Jeffrey Chrystal, who runs Overture Restaurant in the Flad Pavilion, and Easy Street Productions, which has also staged its musical theater performances at the DeYor for many years.

“The exact plans and future of Overture Restaurant are being discussed,” Pagac said. “With the difficulties the pandemic has created for the restaurant industry, we are unsure of the exact future for the restaurant.”

Pagac said he had a brief conversation with Maureen Collins, co-director of Easy Street, on Tuesday and will again meet with her and co-director Todd Hancock over the next few weeks.

“We expect the relationship between Easy Street Productions and DeYor will continue,” Pagac said.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.