Taormina was hired by the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority in 2006 to manage the $145 million for-profit facility, which opened in September 2007. The 419,202-square-foot center, located at 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway at Akers Mill Road and Cobb Galleria Parkway, was the first major performing arts facility built in metro Atlanta in 40 years.
Taormina is the second eldest of six children. His romance with theater started early, when he began singing, dancing and acting on stage at the age of 11.
“In the sixth-grade Thanksgiving play, I was Miles Standish,” Taormina said.
“When you grow up in a large family, which is unique … we each found our own niche. We all found what we wanted to do and our own creative paths, and our parents encouraged it.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in speech from Southeastern Louisiana University and graduate study in dramatic arts at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in 1973, he went home for some rest and discovered a friend was opening the New Orleans theater of Performing Arts (now Mahalia Jackson Theater). He applied and was hired as the house operations manager for the $8 million facility at 24 years old.
“I had been doing professional (theater) work but had not looked at the business administration before then,” he said. “It was not something I thought I wanted to do.”
He stayed in the job 14 years, surviving 14 years of Mardi Gras ball productions, among other performances.
“It was crazy time,” he said.
When the oil industry crashed and New Orleans began suffering an economic downturn, Taormina accepted a job to operate Benedum Center for the Performing Arts in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he stayed for 12 years.
In 2000, he moved to Houston, Texas, to manage the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. In 2006, a call from Michelle Swann, general manager and CEO of the Cobb Galleria Centre, led him to Atlanta.
“(CEPAC) was under construction when I arrived,” he said. “We opened on time and on budget — it is unheard of in the business … Basically, we had four operas and that was it … We hit the ground running.”
Since opening in 2007, Taormina oversees 41 full- and part-time employees, 800 volunteer ushers; and all promotions, artistic programming, operations and sales of the 2,750-seat John A. Williams Theatre and the 10,000 square foot Kessel D. Stelling Jr. ballroom. The center hosts three resident companies: the Atlanta Ballet, Gas South Broadway Series and The Atlanta Opera.
In 2008, there had to be some “adjustments” to stay profitable, he said.
“Seeing the economic downturn, we did everything we could do to combine workforces, and looked to the best ways to generate income,” he said. “Even though we are performing arts, it could have been a lot worse.”
In 2012, CEPAC hosted a total of 237 events with attendance of 221,000.
“Theatre has economic ripple effects,” he said. “It has been good for the area.”
According to Jerry Nix, vice chair, executive vice president, finance of Genuine Parts Company and president of the CEPAC foundation, “Michael should be commended for his successful management and the success of CEPAC … He has steered the facility through some difficult economic times by using his connections in the industry to attract a wide variety of bookings, as well as, through strong financial management and teamwork.”
The ability to keep attracting A-list performers is vital, Taormina said.
“We are only as good as our next show,” he said. “It’s a very interesting business … But that’s why they call it ‘show business.’”