Theater awaits plan approval

The Balboa Performing Arts Theater will continue to offer performances in the “Season Without Walls” that began in November, but it will be up to the California Coastal Commission to decide when the theater can operate under its own roof.

The historic theater, built in 1928 on the site of the Rendezvous Ballroom after it burned, offered vaudeville and other theater as well as films until it closed in 1992. Supporters have been working since 1996 to raise money for a major renovation and expansion, and in 2006 they announced a slate of shows to be put on at other venues while they try to move the theater project along.

Today, theater administrators and supporters hope to surmount a big hurdle. They need the approval of the California Coastal Commission to go ahead with plans for a 320-seat, multi-use theater with stadium seating and a rooftop entertainment deck, estimated in 2005 to cost $6.5 million.

The city of Newport Beach is backing the plans, but today’s Coastal Commission hearing probably will hinge on an issue city leaders have struggled with for years: parking. Theater officials agreed not to offer matinees between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the busiest times for beach visitors, consultant Carol McDermott said in a phone interview Tuesday from Eureka, where the commission meets today. McDermott is on the theater’s executive council.

She wants the commission to change one suggested condition, that the theater monitor and report on the parking situation in perpetuity — and if parking is found to be inadequate, it could jeopardize the theater’s permit from the commission.

“There are so many variables on the parking usage. There are restaurants that have some parking, there are stores that have no parking,” McDermott said.

Area businesses such as the Catalina Flyer and Balboa Pavilion share a nearby city parking lot and metered street parking.

Today’s decision by the commission is the last bureaucratic step in rebuilding the theater, and it may dictate how successful the next step will be.

“If we can get past here, it should be clear sailing,” said Nancy Gardner, a city councilwoman and former theater board member. “There wouldn’t be any concerns for donors that there was going to be a hiccup in the plans.”

Newport Beach City Councilman Michael Henn, whose district includes the Balboa Peninsula, said he’ll be working on long-term solutions for parking issues. He expects the renovated theater to not only bring visitors in the beach’s off season, but to attract a different kind of visitors.

“I view the Balboa Theater as one of the linchpins in the revitalization of the Balboa Village area,” he said.

“I have this sort of a vision of that area being a nice, pedestrian, family-friendly area after dark as well as before dark.”

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