Defying performance anxiety.

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Even in good times, downtown theaters and sports arenas can run in the red their first few years, and the Durham Performing Arts Center had no warm economic wind at its back. It opened in November 2008 amid the chill of a nationwide economic crisis with home foreclosures rising, the stock market plunging and the statewide unemployment rate nearing double digits.

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Yet DPAC, which boasts 2,800 seats and claims to be the largest indoor theatrical venue in the state, earned $1 million in the seven months that made up its first fiscal year. Its owner, the city, received more than $400,000 of the profit--more than four times what was expected. The numbers for the latest fiscal year, which ended in June, aren't final yet, but DPAC continues to bring in tax revenue to the city and leisure dollars to nearby merchants.

In the 12 months ended May 30, the $1 city tax paid on each ticket added up to $303,770, according to the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau. Local tax revenue generated, including sales and occupancy taxes, topped $1 million. Counting visitor spending in hotels, restaurants and other places, the bureau estimates that DPAC added $23.2 million to the local economy. In May, 85,000 people--a 96% occupancy rate--attended the 32 evening and matinee performances of the musical Wicked. "There was a need in our community for the type of programming that DPAC offers--a mixture of Broadway plays, concerts, comedies, musicals,"...

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