The Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center has had more sellout shows in the last three years than board Chairman Joel Menchey said he can remember.

"I've been involved with the Strand off and on since 1996, and the last three years have probably been the most exciting time I've seen," he said.

In the last three years, membership, corporate sponsorship and sales have increased, while debt, ticket prices and production costs have decreased, according to Menchey and Strand CEO Ken Wesler.

"We're doing more things that a performing arts center oughta be doing in a community like York," Menchey said.

Among the accomplishments is a nearly complete $3 million fundraising goal. The nonprofit kicked off a capital campaign April 1 to pay off debt accrued during renovations in 2001.

This year, membership dollars have increased 22 percent, and corporate sponsorship has increased 150 percent.

"More people are donating money, and there are more dollars donated per contribution," Menchey said.

Companies that have signed on to sponsor the current season include Glatfelter Insurance Group, M&T Bank, People's Bank, Art Institute of York, Kinsley Construction and Wells Fargo.

It's the corporate support that makes up the bulk of the Strand's operating income.

"Shows contribute a very small part of our operating income," Menchey said.

The majority of the ticket price goes straight to the artist.

Booking shows: What that price will be is largely

negotiated by Wesler and entertainment agents.

When booking a show, Wesler asks himself what market will see the show and what is their price point, he said.

"We don't hesitate now to walk away from a show that doesn't fit our market. Last year, we walked away from 32 shows because we didn't think they were a good enough deal," Wesler said.

Six years ago, the center paid $20,000 more for some of the same artists it's booking this year.

But six years ago, the Strand wasn't opening its doors to sell-out crowds.

By lowering ticket prices by $12, that's all changed, Wesler said.

The numbers prove the new strategy has worked, he said.

For example, in the 2009-10 season, ticket sales were $661,000. The Strand has now tripled that, Wesler said.

"We fight tooth and nail with the artist to get the right price for our audience," he said. "If tickets are priced correctly, we'll get those 400 people who reached for the phone before but ultimately put it down because they thought the show was too expensive."

As more theatergoers are filling the seats, agents are taking notice and adding York to their tour schedules.

York's geographic location makes it attractive to many acts. Its close proximity to Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York and cities in New Jersey makes it an easy stop for artists on the road, Wesler said.

"When you're traveling the northeast corridor, we're the most popular route there is," he said.

-- Candy Woodall can also be reached at cwoodall@yorkdispatch.com.