Can Downey Theatre meet city's needs?

Amidst a battle over the future of the Avenue Theatre, Mayor Mario Guerra maintains that the Downey Theatre can meet the city's demand for a local entertainment and cultural venue.Since the city council voted to purchase the Avenue Theatre, many residents have expressed interest in preserving the 77-year-old theatre for cultural gatherings and community activities. For Guerra, revitalizing the theatre is not economically feasible. "The forefathers of our city wanted theatre and culture to be a part of the city," said Guerra. "I understand people want to save the Avenue Theatre, but it would cost too much to restore it." Purchased with housing funds, the Avenue Theatre is slated to become affordable condos in the coming years. In an editorial published in the Downey Patriot on June 19, Guerra wrote that the Downey Theatre could facilitate such community gatherings and events as opposed to the Avenue Theatre. "We are so blessed to have a beautiful Downey Theatre," Guerra wrote. "Our council is exploring ways to fully utilize it to its full potential." With a deficit of $300,000, the theatre's budget is balanced with profits made from other city facilities, Guerra said. The mayor hopes to revitalize the theatre by hiring a director or agency to promote the space for regular shows and performances. Since 1970, the Downey Theatre has hosted a variety of events, from dance recitals and musicals to city meetings and beauty pageants. Today, the theatre serves primarily as a rental theatre, occupied most by the Downey Civic Light Opera Association, the Downey Symphony and the Downey Unified School District. Director of Community Services, Thad Phillips, currently oversees operations of the Downey Theatre and agrees that the theatre could be utilized to better meet the needs of local residents. "There is definitely availability at the theatre," said Phillips. "There are dates - if people are interested in booking the theatre, we're interested in hearing from them. The price points are excellent." Jared Head, co-founder of Chameleon Comedy, a local improv group, believes the prices are unreasonable. "The Downey Theatre is a wonderful theatre and a great facility," said Head, 20. "But when you start getting into four-figures a night, there's a reason why it's empty most of the time." According to the city's website, renting the theatre for any six-hour period from 8 a.m. to 12 a.m. is $650, Monday through Thursday, and $750, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Groups using the theatre must also pay personnel charges for the staff needed to supervise the stage and operate the sound equipment. More fees may be added depending on the needs of the group. After hosting a show in the Downey Theatre, Chameleon Comedy paid nearly $5,000. "We made $42 off of that show," said Head sardonically. "It's not too much bank for your buck. It's simply too expensive." Guerra stands by the rental rates established by the city council, but is open to adjusting personnel charges for groups willing to utilize the Downey Theatre in the future. For one group in Downey, however, the struggle to save the historical and cultural aspects of the Avenue Theatre is far from over. The Avenue Arts Foundation (AAF) is an organizing committee, seeking non-profit status, formed with the intent to advocate and promote the visual and performing arts to meet the cultural needs of Downey residents. Currently, the AAF is raising money, collecting petition signatures and garnering support to save the Avenue Theatre. AAF member and 50-year resident of Downey Harold Tseklenis remembers art being an intricate part of Downey in the past and sees the Avenue Theatre as an opportunity to bring culture back into the surrounding area. "Downey is centered around 2 million people who are being underserved," said Tseklenis. "If they could preserve a part of the space for us, it's a chance to revitalize the community." Guerra is open to hearing any opinions on the matter, but maintains that the decision to close the Avenue Theatre is the right one. "People have been talking about changing the downtown for 40 years," said Guerra with a chuckle. "We're not going too fast - we've been moving to slow. We're finally changing the downtown." Christian Brown is a journalism intern for the Downey Patriot.

********** Published: July 24, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 14