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Venezia: Theater aid no blockbuster of an idea

March 20, 2014|By Barbara Venezia
  • Barbara Venezia, a columnist for the Daily Pilot.
Barbara Venezia, a columnist for the Daily Pilot. (Photo by Damion…)

Is the Balboa Village Theatre project a go or a no?

That depends on whom you talk to.

Revitalization of the theater has been a lingering issue since it closed in 1992, and the nonprofit Balboa Performing Theater Arts Foundation was formed in 1996 to preserve and renovate it.

The building, bought by Newport Beach in 1998, pretty much remains four walls and a dirt floor, as fundraising efforts have lagged.

But at the council meeting March 11, city leaders seemed to give the project a cautious nod with a promise to provide $2 million toward the restoration, if the foundation can raise matching funds and produce a viable business plan before Dec. 31.

Steven Beazley, president of the Balboa Village Theatre, tells me he sees this as a win, one he anticipates will open doors to fundraising for the theater.

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He estimates a half million dollars has been raised or pledged so far. He says donors were hesitant to step up without knowing where the city stood on the project. Now he feels confident they will.

Beazley is moving full speed ahead.

The foundation's website should be up by the end of the week. He's working on rebuilding the foundation board and hopes to present a business plan to the city by the first week of April.

What about past donors, like the Crean family? The Creans gave the project a million dollars in the late 1990s and were promised certain naming rights.

"The Creans were given the right for the auditorium called Crean Hall," Beazley says. "I don't see where that changes in their case. If something that was pledged or promised that was taken out of the design, then we have to sit down with these folks and see what else we can do for them."

Beazley was upbeat and raring to go when we spoke, but this is far from a done deal even if he does raise the $2 million.

Newport City Councilman Ed Selich says he's keeping an open mind but isn't totally convinced the project makes sense for taxpayers.

And he takes exception to Beazley calling the city's expenditure to renovate the building an investment.

"Let's call it what it is, a gift, not an investment," Selich says. "He says we'll see revenue of $40,000 a year for 50 years, that's not an investment in my book. And we have to ask if that's the best thing to do with $2 million of taxpayer money."

He has other concerns.

If the theater operates at a deficit of about $450,000 to $500,000, and the foundation can't raise that annually, they'll be coming back to the city for it.

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