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Thursday, March 5, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 2.0° F  Fair
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The Lion King brings surge of money to downtown Madison businesses, Overture Center
The road show has broken box office records.
The road show has broken box office records.

The Lion King has provided a $15 million boost to the downtown economy, according to the Madison Central Business Improvement District.

Around 70,000 will have seen the Disney spectacular by the time its run closes Sunday. It opened at Overture Center for the Arts on April 27.

"Based on the feedback I've gotten from businesses, Lion King has definitely boosted downtown business," says Mary Carbine, executive director of the improvement district.

"We have a ripple effect through the downtown business community all year round, but this has been an especially big boost, which is good for everyone," says Tom Carto, Overture CEO.

The road show has broken box office records at Overture and across the country, leaving a huge wake of ancillary spending by audiences. In Anchorage, for example, in 2009, it pumped an estimated $16 million into that city's economy.

Staging month-long blockbusters was an announced strategy for Overture even before it opened its doors in 2004, but it's seldom been repeated after The Phantom of the Opera in 2005. The idea was to make Overture a destination for patrons far beyond Madison or even Dane County.

Next September the experiment will be repeated, when Wicked also enjoys an extended run at Overture. Last year that production added an estimated $17.3 million to Des Moines' economy.

Carto says that blockbuster booking can help build future audiences. The Lion King has been everything we hoped for, and more," he says. "The energy in the building has been just incredible. People who had never been to Overture before really fell in love with the place. We've seen a real spike in subscriptions for next season already, and I'm sure some of those new subscribers are people who had a great experience at The Lion King."

The success of the production has been welcome news for downtown merchants during the recession. When she asks owners how business has been, "in the past month, it's been the first time in a long time that I am hearing 'good' or 'great' or 'really picking up,'" Carbine says.

Overture has earned more than $4.5 million in ticket sales from the production. Carbine estimates that theatergoers spent $15 million outside of Overture, on meals and hotel stays, for example. The estimate is based on a spending model outlined in a 2005 study by the Wisconsin Arts Board.

"I do not have hard figures, because the businesses in the district are independent and do not report their sales figures to us," she says. "But direct feedback from businesses shows Lion King is boosting business in the central downtown." Carbine's feedback includes results of a recent email survey of merchants in the business improvement district, and from the May meeting of the Greater State Street Business Association.

Restaurants near Overture in particular report being extremely busy due to Lion King, especially on weekends. One restaurateur told Carbine that weekends during the show's run have been as busy as during commencement weekends at the University of Wisconsin.

And the economic impact hasn't just come from theatergoers.

Says Carbine, "We've also had places report business from Lion King cast and crew."

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