Downey Theater under new management

DOWNEY - The City Council on Tuesday approved a 5-year deal with an outside company to take over daily operations of the Downey Theatre, the 738-seat venue that sits mostly vacant today but envisioned as a potential cornerstone of a new downtown Downey.The deal with VenueTech Management calls for the formation of a 501¬© non-profit foundation that could eventually offset the subsidies associated with theater operation. VenueTech will develop annual seasons of 6-10 headlining acts and 100-150 community festivals, such as art shows and exhibits. The city will work in conjunction with the Downey Civic Light Opera, Downey Symphony and Downey Unified School District, currently the theater's primary users, VenueTech president John Lind said. "We believe the civic light opera, symphony and school district are critical to the success of the theater," said Lind. "It's important we work closely with them." The vote Tuesday was 4-1, with Councilman David Gafin dissenting. Gafin said he supported the decision to contract with VenueTech, but wanted to hold off on a final vote to the give the public more time to give feedback. The deal's total contract is not to cost the city more than $400,000 annually, roughly the same amount of money Downey is already losing on the theater, officials said. "We know this is going to run in the red…but we have a building sitting there. Let's see what we can do with it, with the same amount of money we're already losing," Gafin said. "It's a given that we can't turn a profit on this." Mayor Pro Tem Luis Marquez said he was hopeful the 501¬© foundation will eventually help offset the city's subsidy - similar to the city's goal with the Columbia Memorial Space Center - although that probably won't happen right away. "Most nonprofits can begin soliciting grants after a couple of years of community fundraising," Lind said, before adding that most community theaters "are usually subsidized by government, fundraising or a combination of both. The culture industry is not a profitable industry." VenueTech, based in San Francisco, operates six theaters and consults 10 others, mostly located in Northern California. According to its website, VenueTech "has a particular passion for the restoration and reuse of historic structures. It is through this effort that our clients capture a rare community resource and take full advantage of the unique opportunity to blend a rich architectural resource with an exciting vision of the future of their community. Once fully restored and professionally operated, beautiful historic structures can enrich the lives of residents while encouraging celebration of the wonderful lifestyle that the community offers." Among the company's list of achievements is the 800-seat Campbell Heritage Theatre in Campbell, Calif., which was closed for 20 years before VenueTech was hired to lead the theater's restoration. The theater reopened in 2004 after a non-profit established by VenueTech raised $3 million. According to the city of Campbell website, the Heritage Theatre hosted 88 events and more than 36,500 people during its first year of operation. The theater will host Grammy Award-winning singer Al Jarreau in January, and the Broadway show "Defending the Caveman" will stop there in February. That's the type of success and diversity city leaders are hoping for with the Downey Theatre, which has been without a theater manager for two years since Kevin O'Connor retired in 2008. The city did not replace his $200,000 salary and put the theater under the control of community services director Thad Phillips. "Entering into an agreement with VenueTech for professional management of the theatre will create a cornerstone of community life, a unique destination in Downtown Downey, and deliver economic benefits for the entire Downey community," Phillips wrote in a report to the City Council. VenueTech officials would not name specific headliners or acts that could potentially play at the Downey Theatre, but in the past the company has secured a combination of musical and comedic acts such as Dennis Miller, Olivia Newton John, Dave Koz, Howie Mandell, the Beach Boys, The Temptations, Julio Iglesias and others. Grammy Award-winning trumpeter Arturo Sandoval is scheduled to play a VenueTech theater next May. VenueTech is also proposing to revamp the Downey Theater's box office by making it full-service, meaning customers will be able to visit the box office during normal business hours and purchase tickets for any show. The box office will have an online presence as well, with customers having the ability to choose their seats and purchase tickets on the Internet. Councilman Roger Brossmer, who sat on the Downey Theatre subcommittee with Gafin, said he was ready to see diverse programming in Downey. "I want diversity and I don't see that right now," Brossmer said. "The theater as it stands is not meeting the needs of a diverse community."

********** Published: November 25, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 32