In a letter to the Duke Chronicle published today, Duke University senior Abby Alger blasted a recent editorial weighing the pros and cons of the newly-opened Durham Performing Arts Center, arguing that the piece contained “little research, no analysis and vague platitudes about arts and community.” Meanwhile, Alger writes:

Durham suffers from blight and poverty, aging public infrastructure, overburdened courts, perpetual crime and woefully under-performing schools. But $46 million is awarded to a yuppie’s dream “arts center”-and the board doesn’t even give a damn.

Phil Szostak, a developer for DPAC and the building’s architect, issued a bizarre response this morning:

Abby; I hope it makes you feel better to know thatthe City Council felt as you do and did not contribute money to the theater. After paying off the bonds the City will own the theater. The theater is paying for itself, even allocating money from each ticket for future capital improvements.

The $46.8M theater was paid with monies from an hotel occupancy tax and naming rights (which we have sold between $2-$3million dollars work)and a $7.5extraordinary gift from Duke to help benefit the American Dance Festival.

The City will continue to make additional money from the theater with Parking revenue and a share of the profits, if the theater is successful. [emphasis added]

Although the city has sold naming rights to the DPAC stage, lobby and atrium, the theater and building itself–the most critical elements–remain unsold. Meanwhile, the city has budgeted an annual revenue stream of $800,000, over the next 28 years, in naming rights, to help pay back its $67 million debt on the theater. Using Szostak’s figure of $2-3 million, the city is on track to make payments for the next three years–and is so far out-of-luck for the next 25. Already, the City has approved using money from the Downtown Revitalization Fund as a “backstop” to money it has not earned through naming rights. (For more on city money going toward DPAC, read the Nov. 19 Indy story, “The buck stops-where?”)

In effect, the theater is not “paying for itself,” as Szostak claims. Or, as Alger puts it in her response:

Arguing that DPAC will “pay for itself” is akin to me arguing that my (cough, overly expensive) college education will pay for itself. If and only if I end up being successful, that may be true in the long-run, but it will first require me to endure short-run costs…and a lot of Ramen.

Putting aside philosophical arguments–and one’s definition of “pay” (money, prestige, a wide selection of Broadway hits?)–the operative phrase here is Szostak’s: “if the theater is successful.” If DPAC doesn’t sell enough tickets (and, by extention, naming rights and parking spots), not only will Durham fail to make a share of the theater-generated profits Szostak mentioned, but it won’t even be able to make its debt payments. (In which case, money that would otherwise go toward “blight and poverty, aging public infrastructure, overburdened courts, perpetual crime and woefully under-performing schools” would instead go to DPAC. And we’ll all be eating Ramen.)