SM PIER — Facing two years of severe sponsorship shortfalls, Santa Monica Pier leadership is considering a reduced Twilight Dance Series or replacing the popular event with a less expensive run of free concerts.

Officials with the pier said sponsorship revenue has dropped by 80 percent from 2008, and have announced a fundraising effort in hopes of securing over $50,000 to cover the shortfall. If that effort fails, there could be fewer concerts or the series could go on hiatus. There is also the possibility of teaming up with local radio stations, relying more on Los Angeles-area bands that are cheaper than those hired previously.

“We are 100 percent committed to preserving the tradition of free summer concerts on the Santa Monica Pier, but we are not immune to the economic downturn,” said Ben Franz-Knight, executive director of the Santa Monica Pier Restoration Corp., which manages the pier and produces the popular concert series. “We depend on corporate sponsors and that revenue was down 80 percent from 2008 and this year is projected to be just as bad.”

The pier launched an online campaign seeking tax-deductible donations for the summer concerts. Donations can be made at www.santamonicapier.org.

In order to produce the 26th season of the popular Twilight Dance Series with a full, 10-concert summer run, another $164,000 at a minimum, would need to be raised in the next two weeks, Franz-Knight said.

The pier’s board of directors, believing that amount to be unreachable, voted March 4 to cut the series to seven concerts, which would require $92,000 in additional funding.

On Tuesday, the City Council will consider a one-time matching grant of $35,000 to the concert series, which would bring the total funds that need to be raised in the coming weeks to $57,000.

In past years, the series has offered a range of national and international performers during the Thursday night concerts from June through August.

“I think the series is the way many people on the Westside mark the beginning and end of summer,” Franz-Knight said. The pier’s board of directors will decide March 24 whether sufficient funding has been raised to pay for the seven concerts. If not, the board is expected to request that staff pursue options for a less expensive free concert series that relies on Los Angeles-area bands and creative partnerships.

“We hope businesses and residents will donate generously. Every dollar we raise will go toward free community concerts this summer. The more we raise, the better those concerts will be,” said Franz-Knight.

Devoted concert-goer Debra Schloss, who attends more than half of the acts scheduled each year, said she could not imagine a summer without the series. She and her husband attend regularly with friends and guests from out of town. They bring their children and have fun dancing in the open air with people from all walks of life.

“I say if you have to chose between one expensive show and six less expensive ones, you should go with the six shows,” Schloss said. “We live in Los Angeles where there is plenty of talent out there so I’m not concerned about the quality dropping off. Besides, it’s really about just being out on the pier with the ocean in the background, dancing and having fun with friends.

“When it is summer, we don’t do anything else on Thursday nights. On Thursdays, we’re at the pier.”

Emily Kroll, a life-long Santa Monica resident, said she is prepared to donate $100 and plans to contact friends, family and neighbors to see if they too want to donate. She is also going to reach out to see if she can find additional corporate sponsors.

If there were to be no concert series, “there would be no reason to be in Santa Monica,” she said. “It is the highlight of our summer,” Kroll added. “I will do whatever it takes. I’m no trustfunder, but I will do my best.”

kevinh@www.smdp.com

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