San Diego County Arts Editor

While members of the City Council have reacted coolly to the Nederlander theater chain's sudden interest in downtown's Balboa Theater, Gerald Trimble isn't taking any chances. The executive vice president of the Centre City Development Corp. makes clear that he still supports the proposal to turn the old movie house into a mixed-use retail complex and modern art museum, The San Diego Arts Center. Still, he wants to establish the sincerity of the Nederlander's interest as well as the feasibility of turning the Balboa into a legit house for touring shows.

Trimble told The Times that the Arts Center proposal isn't likely to come before the City Council until the beginning of April, by which time CCDC will have completed architectural, structural and theater design studies evaluating the Balboa's theatrical potential. Trimble says he intends to be objective, but he obviously has a strong point of view.

"Even if the (theatrical) studies came back to us and showed it would cost the same to renovate for a theater as for the Arts Center, we'd have to ask, 'Isn't it better to have the more round-the-clock cultural use that a museum affords?' Especially in light of the location (on the eastern edge of Horton Plaza shopping center) and the fact that there are other theaters, like the California and the Spreckels, that aren't being used. And with the Symphony moving from the Civic Theatre into the Fox, that opens up the Civic," he said.

"There's also a real serious question in the restoration. Can you put the balcony back? Also, there's virtually no place to expand the Balboa as a theater. The back of it is now a truck ramp; the north side is on E Street; there's 4th Avenue on another side and Horton Plaza on the west. We still think the Arts Center is (the appropriate) use, but we've got to explore."

COUNCIL: Meanwhile, the City Council waits, with the Arts Center's fate hanging in the balance. On one side, the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art is contemplating a downtown move to the bayside G Street mole. On the other is the Nederlander request for a six-month delay in deciding the Balboa's destiny. Just where do council members stand on the matter?

"I'd be willing to go along with a six-month delay to see if a legitimate theater would (work)," said Councilwoman Gloria McColl. "Theater creates night life, and that's one thing I like about the idea."

Councilman Bill Mitchell admitted, "I like the idea of an art museum (at the Balboa), but we ought to take a look at (the Nederlander offer). Whether we need another theater right next to the two new ones being built inside Horton Plaza is another question."

For the Arts Center's main supporters on the council, the issue is less open. Mike Gotch asked, rhetorically, "Who was here first and who's done the groundwork? The answer is the Arts Center principals." And Uvaldo Martinez, whose district includes the Balboa site, is adamant. He sees no point in changing horses while the Arts Center plans are in mid-stream.

"No way I'm going to give (the Nederlanders) six months to delay," said Martinez. "These theater groups are always there a day late and a dollar short."

SYMPHONY SHUFFLE: The San Diego Symphony Orchestra has fired its last two fund-raising executives within three months of each other--not a terribly auspicious way to steamroll the $6-million Fox Theatre capital funding drive. A new development director was expected to be named weeks ago, but the orchestra's plans seem to have changed. Now, symphony President M.B. (Det) Merryman hints that "a new approach to our capital campaign" is in the works, with fund-raising duties spread among board members.

ARTBEATS: P.A.T.H., the Performing Arts Theatre of the Handicapped, recently moved its offices from Los Angeles to Carlsbad, and on Thursday it will open its first free workshop for talented but disabled would-be entertainers. The place is Magnolia Elementary School in Carlsbad, and anyone interested should call P.A.T.H. at 438-3498 for further information . . . The Balboa Lecture Series at the San Diego Museum of Art begins impressively March 7 with New Yorker magazine critic Brendon Gill. Gill may be an influential art and drama critic, but he'll be lecturing on what people most want to hear from him: Life at the New Yorker . . . Also lecturing on March 2 and 9 at the Timkin Art Gallery as part of the new Timkin/Getty guest-scholar program will be Richard Bretton, who co-curated last summer's blockbuster "Day in the Country" French Impressionism show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

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