With the GhostLight Lounge overall unable to turn a profit since it opened 2 years ago, the RiverPark Center board has unanimously agreed to longer host their own live events — such as drag shows and comedy performances — out of the venue. However, the space will be available for rent for an outside party to host their own programming and events.
Board Chair Scott McCain said that the bar/lounge was profitable some months, but “on an annual and cumulative basis, it was not covering its direct costs, much less certain other fixed and administrative overhead.”
McCain said the RPC Finance Committee and Executive Committees had been monitoring the GLL’s performance for some time and recommended to the full board the decision to stop their own programming earlier this month. McCain said there were no dissenting votes.
McCain said the RPC had already been offering the space for small rentals “to complement and help improve the bottom line overall for GLL.”
“We will continue to offer that space under a rental model only, which can also include the Atmos Courtyard,” McCain said. “We are also in discussions with two prospective tenants who may lease the space long-term or partner with RPC on a more strategic alliance that better fits our mission and long term objectives.”
Executive Director Rich Jorn added that the RPC will still help put on events that community members want to host.
“We’re not going to produce what goes on in there. We’ll let other people do it. We will staff it, we’ll do what we need to do to help facilitate what happens. It’ll just be a different business model, one that protects the RiverPark as a whole,” Jorn said.
Jorn understood the decision was a result of not bringing profit from the lounge — something he had promised his board he would be able to accomplish.
“We discussed it, and it was not going to get to where it needed to be that I was going to even make money. So with that — and it breaks my heart because no one fought for that space more than me — I didn’t deliver what I promised,” Jorn said.
McCain added, “The Ghost Light Lounge was an opportunity to program existing vacant space we control. We tried it, it didn’t work in a reasonable time frame, and it is not worth any more of our time, effort, and resources. We are a performing arts center first and foremost, and we have more than we can say grace over trying to survive in this very difficult environment for our industry post-COVID.”
City Manager Nate Pagan and County Judge-Executive Charlie Castlen said this would not change the allocation for the City’s and County’s upcoming Fiscal Year budget. The RiverPark Center is still set to receive $181,384 from the City, and $0 from the County.
Castlen said that while they will not adjust the budget for this coming year, it doesn’t mean they will never receive funding from the County.
“Every year stands by itself. This year doesn’t mean that they’ll never get another dime from us. As I’ve heard somebody say at some level, they need to get their house in order,” Castlen said.
Jorn said the shift affects all parties involved, from performers all the way to the bartenders whose hours have been cut due to the decision.
“We did drag shows once a month. We did two comedy shows a month. We did karaoke, we did spelling bees … but at the end of the day, I didn’t get to make money,” Jorn said.
McCain said the move does not go against their promise to offer diverse programming.
“The GLL is a very small part of the overall Riverpark events and programming we offer,” he said, noting the RPC is 30 years old. “We are as committed to diverse programming as we ever were. Not to mention that we will rent you that current GLL space to host your own diverse programming or event. In fact, anyone can look at the upcoming event calendar on our website and see that we generally offer something for everybody, not necessarily everything for everybody.”
While McCain admitted there had been pressure from some citizens to stop certain programming — namely drag shows — he said that’s not what led to the decision.
“Certainly I would be dishonest if I said that those distractions have not been heard loud and clear for some time now,” he said. “However, we will not be pressured by certain groups and ring leaders who take it upon themselves to stir controversy and spread misinformation. … We have a very diverse Board of Directors with many years of successful business and professional leadership in their respective careers, nonprofit service, their religious organizations, and families. The staff also works tirelessly along with our many other volunteers to ensure RPC is the best version of itself. We are very capable of taking care of our business.”
McCain continued, “There have certainly been discussions regarding the drag shows around our Board table and with staff and we have made changes along the way and with other parts of our business as well. Change will continue for the good of all and what’s best for Riverpark Center and the impact it has on this community. We welcome respectful and meaningful dialogue with anyone who is confused or misinformed or not informed at all about why we do what we do or don’t. We’ll listen and try to understand both sides to an issue and we may agree or agree to disagree but that is ok so long as we shake hands and are respectful of each other.”
After the RPC board made their decision, showrunner for GLL drag shows Sinna VonTrapp said she was prepared for the call.
As showrunner and performer, she had already scheduled the next two months for the GhostLight Lounge’s drag nights. She said that being in the audience’s company every month was affirming for her.
“It really felt like the culmination of all this hard work that I had put into this, into my art, to be able to deliver that to people who really fully embraced it,” she said.
VonTrapp said this may not be the end for drag in Owensboro, as at least one other venue may start to host shows. Selena Hayden from local bar/restaurant Ten.O.Six confirmed they are planning a drag show for July 29. More information will be posted on their Facebook page.
Prism Arts Alliance representatives said that they are also looking at potentially renting the GhostLight Lounge to host drag nights, but VonTrapp said that would likely be infrequent. Still, she remains hopeful that the future of Owensboro’s drag scene will be fruitful in some capacity.
Jorn said that he is still open to having drag performances at GhostLight Lounge in a beneficial way for RPC, and he’s holding out hope the venue can return to what he intended it for if they reach a better financial place.
“I hope that maybe there’ll be a reprise with this idea later under better circumstances,” he said.
McCain said the RP board will continue to make business decisions “that we think is best for the long-term sustainability, viability and best serves the mission at Riverpark Center. … We will always work very hard to do the right thing even in the face of adversity.”