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Passion Play board resigns Gospel Radio Network founder is president of new 3-man board

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The entire eight-member Board of Directors of the Great Passion Play has resigned and has been replaced with a three-person board, led by a new president, Randall Christy, who is also president and founder of the Ada, Okla.-based Gospel Station Network Christian radio group.

Christy lives in Oklahoma, as does the new board's vice president, Tom Bush, who is a "longtime business and ministry partner" of Christy's, he told the Lovely County Citizen this week.

The only member of the board remaining from the previous slate is Keith Butler, who is staying on as chairman, said Christy, who confirmed that he is taking is taking the helm as the new executive director and "leader" of the Passion Play.

Monday was his first official day on the job, but the resignation of the former board members came the first week of January, Christy said.

Former board members, in addition to Butler, were Vice Chairman Rocky Vantine of Rogers; Secretary/Treasurer Gary Kleck of Bentonville; Diane McClelland of Eureka Springs; Orville Mills; James Williams; Byron Russ of Green Forest; and Randy Wolfinbarger of Eureka Springs.

Christy said it's possible other new directors could be added in the future, but that he believes one of the Passion Play's problems -- one of the reasons it nearly fell into foreclosure last month, before Christy helped spearhead an emergency fundraising effort to raise $75,000 in 10 days and save the play -- may have been a case of too many cooks in the kitchen.

"A reduction in the size of the board to streamline decision-making was part of our 20-part plan," he explained. "Anytime you have a large board, no matter where or what it's for, if you have a lot of people involved in the decision-making, it's difficult to get anything done."

Other directors could be added later, but for now, the three-member board will reorganize the Passion Play, and that work is already under way, he said.

Some of that work will become evident this week as tickets will go on sale on the Play's website, at reduced prices from recent years. Many steps are being taken to reorganize the business model at the Play in order to return to profitability, Christy said.

According to tax documents obtained by the Citizen, the Passion Play has lost at least $1.8 million in the past four years. Just under $400,000 of that loss was from 2011, the most recent year for which Form 990 -- the tax return that all 501(c)(3) organizations must file -- is available.

Form 990 for 2011 also reveals that the Play that year had 293 employees and spent $894,152 on payroll -- not including the $140,439 it paid to management and directors. Christy says that this year, by asking for and relying much more on volunteers to help run the Play, the organization hopes to save half a million in salary expenses. He added that much fewer staff will be hired this year, though he did not have specific numbers yet.

"There are Christian events centers all over America that rely heavily on volunteerism to operate," he said, when asked if this was a realistic goal. "We're going to be looking for RV'ers who want to take this on as their mission, short-term or long-term. We're planning to install RV parks -- and we're looking for help from some construction companies who would be willing to donate some work on this -- so RV'ers who want to volunteer some time throughout the year can be here and stay here and work, as ticket-takers, in concessions, in the cast, wherever. There is a long list of jobs that can be filled by volunteers who feel led by the Lord."

Christy said that, worst-case scenario, "all we really have to have is a cast and people that actually produce the play to be able to open."

"We already have a large percentage of the cast who have said they are willing to put it on for whatever comes in at each performance; dozens have said they would volunteer if necessary," he said determinedly. "That's not what our plan is, but what I'm trying to tell you is, we are going to have this play."

The first step in re-opening the Passion Play has been carried out, he said: re-opening the grounds, the Gift Shop and the Bible Museum. They are now open, he said. "The Christ of the Ozarks is open for daily viewing, and we want people to come out and visit the Passion Play grounds now."

They've also begun their fundraising drive to open the approximately $200K needed to launch the season by the beginning of May. About $15,000 has been raised thus far, through donations and pre-sales of tickets for opening weekend. He said they've also had some interest already in the Save-A-Seat program, where donors pay $250 for a seat and it's named after them or a loved one.

Another step in the reorganization is reducing ticket prices, Christy said. An adult admission last year was about $27; this year it will be $24.85, or $19.85 if purchased at leasts 30 days in advance. A ticket that includes admission to everything on the grounds last year cost $62 or more, and this year it will cost just $39.85, he said, and this year it includes a second day of admission so the ticket-holder can "take their time and return the next day to explore the grounds and all it has to offer."

There will also be family ticket packages that offer additional savings, he said, and an optional dinner package add-on called the Great Hall Experience that will take the place of the now-defunct dinner theater.

In order to raise the much-needed funds to pay down the Play's $2.53 million debt on the property and renovate the worn-out buildings and production equipment, Christy said the Play will be seeking corporate sponsors and underwriters.

"We do not have any interest yet, but it's been done a lot of other places, so we're going to try it here," he said. "We have a lot of experience with corporate underwriters with our radio network, so we're going to give it a try. We are hoping there will be some philanthropists who will want to underwrite the display of some of our amazing pieces at the Bible Museum, and for example some corporate sponsors to fund the renovation of the amphitheater and some of the other buildings. Of course we are willing to name the buildings and such after the underwriters and sponsors ... to totally eliminate the debt of the Passion Play."

Christy said he and the other board members have high hopes for success for breathing new life into the Passion Play and seeing it succeed.

"I have never been so inspired by how many people seem to really care," he said. "The only way this is going to succeed is if a bunch of people come together on a large scale and make this happen. But I have never had so many people wanting to help with something as I have with this project."



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