A powerful research tool for the serious or casual visitor.
Home > Government > Ames Center, 2019, 10th anniversary photos by the Historical Society

After years of deficits, Burnsville's Ames Center is in the black and ready to party 2019

March 19 (online) March 20, St. Paul Pioneer Press reports on the 10th anniversary of the Ames Center.

After 10 years of planning, eight years of operating in the red, divisive council meetings, a recession and neighborhood opposition, the Ames Center, formerly the Burnsville Performing Arts Center, is operating in the black and feeling good about the future.

“We knew it would happen,” Burnsville Mayor Elizabeth Kautz said. “We just had to show them. We had to stay true to the vision and the mission and the strategic plan and if you work at it, you’ll get there.”

The center will celebrate its 10-year anniversary Wednesday at 6 p.m. with hors d’oeuvres, a cash bar, and performances by Twin Cities Ballet of Minnesota and the Dakota Valley Symphony. At 8 p.m., ABBARAMA, an ABBA tribute band, will play.

“The Ames Center is truly a gem,” Kautz said. “I am so excited to celebrate its journey thus far and look forward to its bright future.”


Kautz has been mayor for 25 years and has supported the center since Burnsville began making plans in the 1990s to revitalize its downtown.

The mixed-use development, dubbed “The Heart of the City,” would include a park, retail, housing and the $20 million performing arts center with an auditorium that seats about 1,000 people.

The project was controversial, with some opposing the expense, and when the center opened in 2009, right in the middle of a recession, things got worse. It lost more than $800,000 in its first year of operation.

The city had to foot the bill and approve over $200,000 more to build an orchestra shell and buy audio-visual equipment. Once that was approved, three city council members said they would not support putting any more money into the center.

Before the year was up, the director of VenuWorks, the management company running the center, resigned.

In 2010, the center lost $696,000 and in 2011, the chairman of the advisory commission quit and recommended firing VenuWorks. A second director resigned.

In 2011, the center had been primarily a rental facility. Performers and companies were often hesitant to book because if the show did not sell out, they would eat all of the loss. The city voted to set up an “angel fund” in which it would match up to $50,000 of donated funds that would help shoulder that risk. It also hired Brian Luther as the new and current director, who said he knew exactly what he was getting into when he applied for the job.


“I love a challenge,” Luther said. “I did a lot of research. There were perception issues, but I didn’t buy into that. I felt that we’ve got one of the best assets in the Twin Cities metro area. I saw this as a fun challenge.”

Luther set to work trying to find or improve alternate revenue streams that would take some of the burden off the taxpayers. One of those was through naming rights.

In 2013, in exchange for $100,000 a year from Ames Construction Inc. of Burnsville, the city renamed the building the Ames Center. It went on to sell naming rights to its main theater to Louisiana-based Masquerade Dance Co., which pays $50,000 per year.


In 2017, the center turned its first, if modest, profit, making $3,600.

“I spent a lot of time going through those numbers looking really close to see what I could find was wrong,” Luther said, laughing. “I said, ‘This cannot be right!’ ”

He spent that Friday in January calling council members and stakeholders to let them know personally what they had done.

“It was such an achievement and they needed to really understand it was their hard work and the risk that was taken to make this happen,” he said. “I got emotional, I really did. This is a big deal.”

For Kautz, it was the realization of a dream. “I was elated,” she said.

Luther went from ecstasy to worrying about the next year’s bottom line and if 2017 had just been a fluke. The books have not yet been closed on 2018, but he said he is certain it was another profitable year.

In 2018, the center hosted 830 events. It has eight full-time staff members and 100 part-time staff. Its effect as an economic engine can be seen in the development around it, including a new residential building currently under construction.


Luther recently reworked the food service in the building, finding a new revenue stream there, and has some capital improvements he’d like to see done.

He has also found interest in the corporate world, renting out the auditorium to companies such as Comcast and Shutterfly.

“I haven’t seen an end in sight yet,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we’ll continue to grow at that pace, because as we continue to grow, expenses continue to rise. It’s very exciting. We’re definitely looking at where do we grow now.”

Ames_10th_program.pdf Ames_Candle_centerpiece_Ames_front.JPG Ames_pioneer_press_story_2019.pdf Ames_Speaker_Shawn_Dahl.JPG Ames_Symphony_sign_and_group.JPG
Rate this file (No vote yet)
File information
Album name:jack / Ames Center, 2019, 10th anniversary photos by the Historical Society
Filesize:2012 KiB
Date added:Mar 20, 2019
Dimensions:2048 x 2650 pixels
Displayed:65 times
Favorites:Add to Favorites
Add your comment
Anonymous comments are not allowed here. Log in to post your comment