{ Background Image }

WWRP Managing Partner and corporate and mergers and acquisitions attorney Richard J. Williams recognized by Crains Detroit Business for his critical role in 2012 in re-establishing the fiscal health of the Michigan Opera Theatre

MARY KRAMER: MOT deserves bow for fundraising push

March 20, 2015

The week, Crain’s looks at the local popular music scene – artists, recording studios and venues. The vitality of that scene puts Detroit on the musical map.

But our region’s higher-brow stuff is worth bragging about, too.

Earlier this summer, the Michigan Opera Theatre successfully restructured its debt - lopping a cool $13 million in debt off its balance sheets.

Here’s the backstory: The MOT had negotiated for two years with its four-bank consortium led by J.P. Morgan Chase. By last December, the MOT board, led by mergers-and-acquisitions attorney R. Jamison “Rick” Williams as its chair, decided on what Williams calls an “all-in plans.” If the MOT paid off $11 million by June 30, the banks would forgive the balance - about $7 million.

As a founding member and managing partner of his law firm, Williams, Williams, Rattner and Plunkett PC, Williams knew a lot about restructuring. But now he and MOT General Director David DiChiera were raising money almost full time.

“We had a daily list of people we were approaching,” said Williams. Board members pitched in, too, with specific goals.

Collectively, the effort brought in $7.2 million from donors and foundations. To hit $11 million, the MOT took out a five-year, $5 million loan from Northern Trust. Overnight, debt went from $18 million to $5 million.

A couple of high-lights:  First, from-the-stage pitches at 10 spring performances brought in $1 million, $350,000 in checks written on the spot.

“We only knew 20 percent of the names,” DiChiera said of this new crop of donors. “People were giving $10, $25.”

Second, new donors wrote some pretty large checks. Williams said he called a retired Catholic priest who wrote a check for $5,000 to thank him.  Before long two more checks came along for the same amount. A couple of significant gifts helped, too. The Ethan Davidson Foundation gave $1 million, and Chrysler Group LLC wrote a large check.

The MOT”s parking garage is now profitable, with new street-level tenants and cash from monthly leases for some of its 770 parking spaces. That will help the balance sheet in the future, too. (It’s also a guaranteed parking spot for employees and ticket holders on days when, increasingly, downtown is jumping with activity.)

Big cities need the arts – museums, music, opera and theater- to be considered big cities. Williams and the rest of the board at the MOT deserve a curtain call for their performance.

Mary Kramer is publisher of Crain’s Detroit Business. Catch her take on business news at 6:10 a.m. Mondays on the Paul W. Smith show on WJR AM 760 and in her blog at www.crainsdetroit.com/kramer. E-mail her at mkramer@crain.com.