Financial Problems Hit New Arts Complex at Cal State Long Beach : University: Officials cut Carpenter Center staff, delay plans for next performance season.


The Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center, the centerpiece of a $32-million arts and music complex at Cal State Long Beach, is having financial problems halfway through its first full season.

University officials would not release specific figures, but they have taken several cost-cutting steps, including laying off most of the center's staff, reducing box-office hours and delaying arrangements for next fall's series of performances.

The university laid off seven of the center's 10 staff members, replacing them with university personnel and students. The move prompted some critics to question whether the hall will become little more than a glorified classroom.

"It's almost tragic, what's going to happen to this place," said one employee who recently received a layoff notice. The employee asked to remain anonymous. "They have a beautiful facility . . . and they're basically making it into another college auditorium."

A university official downplayed the cutbacks.

"This change appears a lot more serious than it is," said Jerry Mandel, who oversees fund-raising for the university. Mandel said the changes will give more students an opportunity to work in a professional theater environment.

"Our program turns out people who will work in the performing arts," he said. "This is their laboratory."

The 1,162-seat, crescent-shaped auditorium on Atherton Street opened in January, 1994. It is the largest of a cluster of buildings that includes rehearsal studios and the Martha B. Knoebel Theater, a 250-seat hall designed exclusively for dance. The state paid for construction costs, but the university must provide money for the Carpenter Center's operations.

Officials hoped to establish a $5-million endowment fund to help pay most of the center's operating costs. But officials have raised only $3 million, including a $1 million donation from singer Richard Carpenter. Carpenter and his late sister, Karen, majored in music at the university before achieving fame as a pop singing duo.

"You never absolutely know when you start a fund-raising campaign how successful it will be," Mandel said. "We thought it would be easier."

Richard Carpenter's attorney, Werner F. Wolfen, said the singer is looking into the changes at the center and could not comment.

Officials planned a variety of uses for the auditorium to generate funds: an annual performance series, lectures and conferences, student productions. They also hoped to attract touring professionals and rent the facility to local organizations.

Officials said ticket sales have been steady for the current performance series, which has included comedian Paul Rodriguez, the Flirtations singing quartet and a Brazilian dance company.

But rentals to outside organizations have failed to meet expectations. Officials had hoped to rent the facility to about 40 groups, such as churches, clubs and other theater organizations. But only about 20 groups have rented the facility at a cost of up to $1,715 a day.

Mandel said the Carpenter Center is not in serious trouble, however. "We're still in the black," he said. "We just saw what was coming down the line . . . and had to cut." He would not reveal figures, saying they have not been properly compiled and reviewed by the university.

The remainder of this season, which concludes May 13 with a performance by jazz masters Marcus Roberts and Ellis Marsalis, will not be affected, officials said.

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