Broadway Palm owners sell Arizona theater; no changes in Fort Myers

Will Prather announced Wednesday that his family had sold the family's theater in Mesa, Ariz., the Broadway Palm West, to Desert Star Theatrics. The change has no effect on the long-time Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Fort Myers, which remains under the family's ownership and has a full season of shows planned.

Photo courtesy Broadway Palm

Will Prather announced Wednesday that his family had sold the family's theater in Mesa, Ariz., the Broadway Palm West, to Desert Star Theatrics. The change has no effect on the long-time Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Fort Myers, which remains under the family's ownership and has a full season of shows planned.

— Prather Entertainment Group owner Will Prather announced Wednesday that he had finalized the sale of his family's Mesa, Ariz., dinner theatre to Salt Lake City businessman Mike Todd. The sale has no effect on the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Fort Myers.

The deal, finalized Tuesday, has been in the works since last June. Prather declined to reveal the sale price of the theater.

"I'm excited that it's remaining a theater," he said. "That's one of the most important things."

The road to the sale has been a long - and sometimes rocky - one.

Layoffs were announced at the Mesa theater in early March, as the facility announced it was preparing to re-trench and re-open later in the summer with a new concept.

Todd's company, Desert Star Theatrics, produces original musical theater parodies. Titles include "The Princess Bridesmaid," "CSI: Provo" and "Wicked-er!"

"He knows the parody law inside and out," Prather said.

The Broadway Palm West, opened in October 2001, was the third of the Prather's mini-chain that includes the Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre in Lancaster, Pa., and the Broadway Palm in Fort Myers. Their operations also include a national touring company, whose recent productions have included "The Wedding Singer," "All Shook Up" and "Blast!"

Arizona was just one of three potential markets that the Prathers researched in late 1999 and 2000 as they sought to expand. After six months of market research and serious consideration of resort towns in New England and North Carolina, Mesa - a bedroom community about 20 miles east of sprawling metropolitan Phoenix - won out.

"I took the demographics of my dinner theater in Fort Myers and had a Realtor look at that region," Prather said. "I said 'find me another place that looks just like this.'"

With a location in hand, Prather set about recreating the model that had worked in Pennsylvania and Florida.

"We found a supermarket, found all my best managers, poured all of our resources, had my sister-in-law in charge and running point on it," Prather said, ticking off the steps to getting the Mesa facility up and running.

The Prathers poured $3 million into the facility, only to see their efforts derailed by the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

"Then, 9/11 happened," Prather mused. "My theater had its soft opening just two months shy of 9/11. Right in the middle of our final efforts for that theater to open, 9/11 happened."

The tough start was perhaps an omen of things to come for the Mesa theater.

"I think from that point forward, I knew it was going to be an interesting ride," Prather chuckled bemusedly.

Broadway Palm West had four years of what Prather describes as "phenomenal" growth. Annual attendance reached 190,000. Gross revenues came in just under $7M. Annual subscriptions soared past 9,300 - double the number of subscribers in Fort Myers at the time.

"It was this monumental, terrific success," Prather recalls. "Then, for various reasons, things started to go in a different direction."

Prather struggles for words to describe the past few years of business, especially as he has fought with the economic downturn and patrons who have tightened their purse strings. He finally settles on "extremely challenging."

"All of our theaters saw declines in revenue of about 20 percent," Prather said.

But Arizona fell farther and harder.

He says that the Mesa facility was basically generating just one-fifth of the revenue it had a few years earlier - yet salary, labor and other costs hadn't gone down.

"We've known for two years that something had to change," Prather said emphatically. "It wasn't working."

While he doesn't point to any specific factor that led to the theater not being as successful as the ones in Fort Myers and Lancaster, he does admit to "mistakes."

"We weren't consistent with our marketing and our branding, we weren't entrenched in the community," Prather said. "We didn't have the brand we have here."

He also points to more competition. Phoenix, the nation's sixth-largest metropolitan area, has a population of 4.2 million in a broad swath of suburbs that stretch along the Salt River Valley; the Arizona Republic once identified about 80 different theaters in the region, he said. By comparison, Collier and Lee counties together have about two dozen, ranging from tiny amateur groups to the Naples Philharmonic.

"We also started doing too much discounting," Prather said, noting that his Fort Myers theater rarely offers broad discounts on tickets outside of certain times of year or a few one-off specials. "We just fell into some bad cycles out there. Once you fall into that, it is very hard to get back out."

Prather wants to assure Southwest Florida audiences that the Fort Myers theater is not closing.

"Unfortunately, both theaters are called Broadway Palm," he said. "It has no direct financial impact on my operation in Florida."

Prather calls the move "a strategic decision" that allows him to focus his attention on the theaters in Fort Myers and Lancaster, both of which remain profitable. He also plans to hop in and out of the upcoming 30-week, 70-city fourth national tour of "Fiddler on the Roof." He also hinted that PEG might consider mounting a second, concurrent national tour at some future date.

Up next for the impresario is an update of the Broadway Palm, announced earlier this spring that will include renovations, new bathrooms, cosmetic upgrades, service improvements and changes to the dining menu.

"I've got the architectural plans on my desk," Prather said, although he refused to cough up any more details.

"Cinderella," the current Broadway Palm production, runs through runs through June 23, followed by "Grease." Family friendly ticket prices range from $18 to $39. Call (239) 278-4422 or online at www.BroadwayPalm.com.

The national tour of "Fiddler on the Roof" launches with a seven-week stint in Fort Myers from Dec. 29 - Feb. 16, 2013 before heading out on the road.

Individual tickets go on sale to the public June 1, 2012. For more information about group sales or to request information, go online to www.broadwaypalm.com, call (239) 278-4422 or stop by the Broadway Palm box office at 1380 Colonial Boulevard in Fort Myers.

© 2012 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 2

SimonSays writes:

Hats Off to Will Prather and the whole Prather and Broadway Palm Theater families. You made a smart decision by paring down to a more manageable size and I am sure that Southwest Florida stands with me in saying Thank You for all that you do here!
Fellow Southwest Floridians...the Broadway Palm Theater is a gem and I am sure that it is more of a labor of love than a profit-making venture for the actors and management. Please show them (and other tourism partners) your support so we can continue to enjoy a wide variety of entertainment in our little corner of Paradise.

ThePratherWay writes:

This is so typical of the Prather Family, (Owners),. Money is sooo MUCH more important to Will Prather then the employees who have worked many many years for that family, 6 days and 14 hours aday. Will Prather throws away long term loyal employees just to channel his money into his personal struggling "TOURING" business.

The Prather family continue to treat long term employees in their OTHER 2 theatres as just numbers, and often toss them aside without even a thank you for the long loyal service.

It won't be long before the other 2 theatres they own are sold too,...Just to fund WILL PRATHER'S other personal struggling project... NOT fair to good folks.

As you can see. Prather States the Ft. Myers FL theare is not being sold. BUT he did not say the Lancaster, Pa theatre is not next on the chopping block.

It would be long before the Lancaster, PA folk, some that have worked the for more than 20 years, will be coldly dis

.

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