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Bradley Backs Funds for Theatre Center : Budget: The mayor asks the Community Redevelopment Agency to continue support despite an atmosphere of tightening resources.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley has entered the fray over the future of Los Angeles Theatre Center.

The mayor has called for the Community Redevelopment Agency to help the financially troubled center “continue operations through its summer and winter seasons.”

The agency, which has spent more than $19 million on LATC’s Spring Street facility since 1978, has allocated $750,000 for LATC facilities support as a contingency item in its budget for the coming fiscal year starting July 1. But the actual annual cost of maintaining the facility is about $1.8 million, estimate LATC officials. And some city council members have challenged the continuation of CRA’s support.

In a letter sent Wednesday to CRA chairman Jim Wood, the mayor also urged the agency to form a “study group” that will evaluate LATC’s proposed five-year plan--which requests $32 million in city funds--and report back within 90 days with “a comprehensive list of options for the permanent survival” of the theater.

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Wood responded Thursday that “the agency is going to work on an interim solution. What it will be is open to negotiation.” He also said the CRA will form the study group suggested by the mayor.

Earlier, a CRA spokesman said the agency would simply forward the LATC plan on to the city council’s Community Redevelopment and Housing Committee, a decision that prompted LATC board chairman E. Kent Damon Jr. to criticize the agency’s failure “to provide a responsible review” of the plan. “I think the theater will survive the scrutiny of a reasonable examination of its plan.”

The plan, which was mandated by the city council in February and released this week, includes establishment of an endowment that might enable annual CRA subsidies to end, as well as the paying of the theater’s long-term debts. But CRA administrator John J. Tuite has already declared that the agency can’t afford the LATC plan.

The mayor, for whom one of the LATC theaters is named, called the plan “a realistic assessment of the LATC’s financial needs” and “an excellent starting point for discussion.” However, he also warned that the city and the CRA “are entering a time of drastically limited resources and dramatically increasing social needs.”

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Asked where the city might find the money to support LATC’s plan, Damon cited “tax increment funds that the agency has available to it” and “public benefit fees that arise when developers buy air rights. Nobody knows how much that is, but I hear it’s big.”

“How much money does the agency have available?” asked Ronald Peterson, president of the theater’s Real Estate Operating Company. “A serious effort has to go into examining this.”

An aide to Councilwoman Gloria Molina, who chairs the Redevelopment and Housing Committee, said the council faces a tough decision. “The council will have to make a serious policy choice,” said Molina aide Gerry Hertzberg. “Whether to continue subsidizing or letting the lights go out.”

Molina had not yet been able to read the LATC plan, added Hertzberg, but he noted that “from day one, everyone should have known this theater would require a subsidy in the long term. The county pays substantial funds to keep (the Music Center) going. In this case, there is an additional value--the revival of Spring Street.”

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In the short term, a $298,000 debt payment on the LATC building is due on June 15. Damon and Peterson contend the CRA should pick up the tab, despite the near depletion of the CRA reserve fund established for that purpose. Only $195,000 remains of the $1.5-million reserve fund, leaving $103,000 still to be found to meet the June 15 payment.

The CRA made “a commitment to continue to pay the facility costs and pay off the occupancy costs,” said Peterson. Damon added that the theater had received “mixed messages” from the CRA as to how long that commitment would last.

Damon and Peterson also took issue with the CRA’s announcement that the LATC deficit stood at $603,000 on April 30, which was the date the deficit was supposed to dip below $250,000, according to the terms of a CRA-LATC agreement. They said they couldn’t name a precise deficit figure until the theater’s own auditors completed their work. But Damon said the actual figure was lower than $603,000, though probably not as low as the $250,000 target.


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