Progress slow for the Balboa Theater

While perpetually behind schedule, the Balboa Theater restoration has made strides.

The city is almost done checking its building plans and officials hope to issue a permit for construction within the next month.

It will be a big step that theater supporters hope will revive their fundraising and bring them closer to opening day. They hope to revive the old-time movie and vaudeville house that has been closed since 1992. Since about that time, arts advocates have been organizing and planning, but their efforts have stalled out repeatedly.

"Things like this take a long time and people begin to doubt that it will ever happen," said Balboa Performing Arts Theater Foundation Treasurer Craig Smith, who added that the board of directors is "very dedicated" to seeing the project to completion.

The latest fundraising campaign has already netted one large donor — Balboa real estate agent Dayna Pettit, who gave $100,000, according to Smith.

Now the group is looking for other large gifts to reach the $4.8 million needed for construction. Already $800,000 has been raised toward that goal.

The ambitious plans designed by architect John Fisher of John Sergio Fisher and Associates include a 300-seat multi-use space with a rooftop deck and retracting seats. The exposed floor would make room for banquets and dinner-theater cabaret, and the stage would accommodate live plays, movies, operas and after-school arts programming.

Last summer, the City Council gave the foundation a $175,000 grant to finish the plans and agreed to fast-track their applications. Theater foundation Chairman Seth Seigel said at the time he expected the plans to be ready in six months and to cost about $4.5 million to build. Both numbers increased.

That has been the ongoing plot for the restoration — delays and price changes. It took more than $3 million in donations to get to this point. That amount paid for gutting the interior, clearing out asbestos, soil testing, studies and the various permitting processes.

The latest board of directors is unpaid, so all donations go toward construction, while in the past, some funds went to pay for salaries.

As soon as the foundation raises $2 million it could start construction, Smith said. And if that happens relatively soon, the group will aim to open in fall 2012.

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