Greensburg's Palace Theatre turns rare profit as ticket sales soar
Greensburg's Palace Theatre turned a rare profit in 2017 as ticket sales soared, outpacing the gradual growth that has been the norm for years.
The Palace regularly loses money — more than $100,000 a year on average — and relies on support from charitable donations and other sources of income from its parent organization, the Westmoreland Cultural Trust.
“Everything we do, at the Trust level, is for the purpose of subsidizing the Palace,” said Trust President Michael Langer.
Langer wouldn't say exactly how big a profit the Palace turned last year, though he did say it was modest — less than $10,000.
The theater sold $3.8 million worth of tickets, an increase of about 46 percent from 2016. Of the 204 musical acts, theatrical productions and other events, 66 were national acts, Langer said.
Ticket sales have grown every year for more than a decade, but the year-to-year increases have always been much smaller, usually less than 20 percent.
Langer said the renovated 1926 theater has been working for a long time to establish itself as a destination for nationally touring performers, and those efforts paid off in 2017.
“Last year was one of those years when it all came together,” he said.
Much of the money from ticket sales goes to the performers. The Palace kept about $1.5 million of the $3.8 million collected in 2017.
Upkeep at the 91-year-old building is a major expense — more than $1 million a year, Langer said.
He said he's “cautiously optimistic” the Palace will bring in about as much money this year as it did in 2017, though he's not predicting another major increase.
“We might not be able to beat that number, but we should be around it,” he said.
They key to the theater's success has been attracting nationally known names such as Trace Adkins, “Weird Al” Yankovic and Foreigner, which bring in a combination of local and out-of-town fans, Langer said.
“It's those nationally touring acts that get all the hype,” he said.
The Trust hired consulting firm Mullin and Lonnergan Associates to do an economic impact study on the Palace.
The recently completed study found the theater generated about $15 million for the local economy in 2017. That's partly because of construction spending — the Trust recently renovated several apartments above the theater.
Without construction spending, the Palace generates about $10.8 million for the local economy. That's money concert-goers spend at restaurants, hotels and other local businesses.
“It makes us by far the biggest cultural destination in Westmoreland County,” Langer said.
It's an increase of about $1.8 million from a similar study done in 2014.
“To me, it means everything. It adds to the cultural vitality of our downtown. The caliber of their shows is increasing, as anybody can see,” said Greensburg City Administrator Sue Trout. “It's an economic driver for our community, and it's very important that we support it.”
The Trust's long-term goal is to make the Palace financially self-sustaining, though that likely will take time, Langer said.
Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6646, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Soolseem.