Philadelphia Business Journal: Mann Center eyes up to $70M, three-phase campus update

The Mann Center for the Performing Arts is beginning the next three stages of its master plan for campus improvements, which CEO Catherine Cahill projects could easily amount to $70 million and include facets like a second permanent Skyline Stage and a new food and beverage pavilion complete with a wine bar.

Democratic U.S. Congressman Dwight Evans (PA-3rd District) and Cahill on Wednesday morning announced $1 million in federal funding to be allocated to the cultural nonprofit to help it advance the renovations. The funding stems from President Joe Biden’s $1.5 trillion omnibus spending package, and goes to support the Mann as “a major cultural and economic driver in Philadelphia,” Evans said.

The aid comes as the Mann, which kicks off its 2022 season in April, embarks on stages five through seven of an overarching master plan that originated in 2003. The extensive three-part portion currently underfoot is likely to take upward of 20 years to fully complete. Most recently, stage four of the Mann’s overall plan took place from 2017 to 2019 and included overhauling dilapidated seating and addressing major water infiltration of its wood pavilion.

The nonprofit will focus on fundraising to implement as much as possible of stage five in time for 2026, which marks Philadelphia’s highly anticipated semiquincentennial celebration as well as the Mann’s 50th anniversary at its Fairmount Park venue.

Within stage five, attention will first be given to constructing a permanent Skyline Stage, which will include addressing ongoing “major power issues” stemming from aging electrical infrastructure. If enough money is raised in time for 2026, then the Mann will turn to expanding its plaza and maximizing its food-and-beverage operation via the new pavilion and wine bar. More bathrooms would be included in the updates.

Through these renovations, Cahill said she anticipates a return on investment stemming from improved guest experience and streamlined access to more hospitality offerings that will fuel additional revenue.

Completing all of stage five by 2026 remains up in the air as the Mann navigates ongoing pandemic-induced supply chain issues and associated spiking costs, Cahill noted.

The Mann remains “cautiously optimistic” for a robust 2022 performance season, Cahill said. Strong ticket sales serve as a positive early indicator that people are ready to come out once again and be “as normal as possible” after two years of Covid-19. The potential impact of new Covid-19 variants are on Cahill’s radar “everyday,” she added, and the Mann is in constant contact with the city’s health commissioner.

The ongoing campus redevelopment comes as the nonprofit continues to try to be the city’s premiere destination to serve a modern 21st-century audience as crowds begin to return, Cahill said. For one, the Mann has had success with the festival-style format of The Roots Picnic, which attracted 25,000 guests during summer 2019. The event is slated to return in June with a lineup that includes Mary J. Blige, Summer Walker and Wizkid.

The Mann typically attracts about 200,000 patrons each summer. The 22-acre campus boasts the main Presser Foundation Stage, which includes the 4,500-seat TD Pavilion and outdoor accommodations for another 10,000 concertgoers; the Skyline Stage area that accommodates 7,500 guests; and the multi-stage festival area that can accommodate 25,000 people.

New this year will be an intimate 300-person “in-the-round” seating experience called Downstage @ the Mann.

The 2022 season comes as The Philadelphia Orchestra extends its residency into a long-term partnership running through the 2027 season and BalletX launches a three-year residency this spring.

Highlights of the upcoming season include “Voices of Hope, A Celebration of Black Excellence” on May 6; “Party in the Park with Josh Groban” on July 12; “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in Concert” with the Philadelphia Orchestra on July 23; and “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi in Concert” with The Philly Pops on Aug. 11.