Updated: April 12, 1:24 p.m.
What once stood as a bleak federal building is now Gainesville’s own cultural centerpiece, the Hippodrome State Theatre.
Thirty-five years ago the second floor was transformed from a courthouse to the main stage. The first floor, which used to be a post office, is now a cinema filled with fold-up rocker seats. The postage sorting room hosts an elaborate collection of production sets and props.
But the Hippodrome is hanging on by a thread, according to Jessica Hurov, the Hippodrome’s managing director. Like many local art organizations, the Hippodrome is hurt by a lack of funding.
Gainesville’s cultural art organizations have recently voiced their concerns to the county about the distribution of its Tourist Product Development, or TDC, grant.
The grant is funded through the Tourist Development Tax, otherwise known as the Bed Tax, which places a 5 percent tax on local hotels, motels, campgrounds, or any accommodation that is available to rent for six months or less.
Since 2006, the Hippodrome’s Bed Tax funding has dropped 77 percent. And it’s just one of cultural and nature-based organizations to feel a dramatic decrease in funds.
Dance Alive National Ballet, the Gainesville Orchestra and the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens have also been affected.
“We are concerned that we make payroll every two weeks,” said Judy Skinner, director of grants and arts education programming at Dance Alive.
Skinner said that Alachua County needs to fund the art, cultural and nature-based organizations through a better way than TDC grants.
Despite cuts in state and Alachua County funding, the Hippodrome celebrated its 35th anniversary on Friday with the first play it ever debuted on its current mainstage: “The Elephant Man.”
Opening night usually sells out, Huron said. But ticket sales aren’t enough to keep the theatre financially afloat.
“When we have to scrutinize and squeeze every penny from our budget, we don’t do it for ourselves,” Hurov said. “When we seek funding, we don’t put that money in a corner and admire it. We turn it into artistic excellence where people can enjoy it.”
The Hippodrome’s budget is around $2.4 million. About half of the budget is made up of earned income, including ticket sales, facility rentals and sales from the cinema.
The theater holds events 340 days of the year.
It relies heavily on its partnership with the city of Gainesville and Alachua County.
“We celebrate the relationship with the city every chance we get,” Hurov said. “The Hipp building that people know and love in downtown is through the help of many hands and through the financial support of many sources.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include Dance Alive National Ballet, the Gainesville Orchestra and the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, which are also affected by the cuts in funding of the arts. The previous version also incorrectly implied that Judy Skinner works for the Hippodrome.