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California

Selling historic Balboa Theater in Newport Beach stirs hopes of revival

The Balboa Performing Arts Theater, a longtime community fixture on the Balboa Peninsula, would be sold to a Costa Mesa developer for $1 million under a proposal the Newport Beach City Council will consider Tuesday night.

The council voted in April to enter a nine-month exclusive negotiating agreement to work with Lab Holding LLC, the company behind The Lab and The Camp in Costa Mesa, on a proposal to rejuvenate the 88-year-old theater building, which has been vacant for years.

The agreement was intended to give the city and Lab Holding time to finalize a plan and negotiate a sale of the city-owned property to Lab, which proposes to update the Balboa Boulevard venue and maintain it as a theater.

Lab Holding is proposing to restore the theater’s original architecture, including the marquee, which likely would reflect the 1920s wrought-iron style. The venue is proposed to have a cafe that would open to the street, a small stage for live music and a second stage for private events. The live-music stage would have an indoor pub but no seating.

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The theater, built in the late 1920s during a time when building codes were limited, needs significant work before it is safe to reopen, officials say.

The building is considered “structurally deficient,” according to a city staff report. It also needs new plumbing, mechanical and electrical systems.

The city bought the property in 1988 for $480,000. The theater fell on hard times and was shuttered in 1992.

Since the theater’s closure, some residents held out hope that it would again entertain the masses.

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The Balboa Performing Arts Theater Foundation launched a fundraising effort in 2010 to renovate the building with plans to transform it into a 320-seat multiuse venue featuring musical acts, dance and theater performances, films and performing-arts education. But the fundraising did not prove fruitful.

In 2014, the city proposed turning the theater into a fine arts center, offering exhibitions, movies, live performances and workshops. But it was difficult to find widespread support for a city-run theater, council members said.

hannah.fry@latimes.com

Fry writes for Times Community News.


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