Former OC Fair director takes over foundation

Steve Beazley, who stepped down last year as president and chief executive officer of the OC Fair & Event Center, has been tapped to play a similar role with the group seeking to bring the long-defunct Balboa Performing Arts Theater back to town.

The Balboa Performing Arts Theater Foundation announced Tuesday that Beazley had come on board as its first chief executive officer.

Beazley, who officially took the position Sept. 1, topped nearly 100 candidates for the position, according to Richard Stein, executive director of the nonprofit Arts Orange County, which assisted the foundation in the search.

"This really is the opportunity of a lifetime," said Beazley, who lives in Costa Mesa. "I've been blessed with some great opportunities, but never one that's so poignant. The sky's the limit."

The poignancy, he explained, is the fact that the rebirth of the Balboa theater has been anticipated for so many years. Since the venue closed in 1992, it's gotten City Council support and millions in donations to reopen.

"There are some people wondering if this is just another start before a stop," Beazley said. "The foundation is committed, and I'm here to say, 'This is a start that won't have a stop to it.'"

Craig Smith, the chief financial officer for the foundation and a member of the selection committee, said Beazley's eclectic background, which includes his four-year stint as CEO of the fairgrounds, as well as acting with South Coast Repertory, made him a strong choice.

"He was just head and shoulders above everyone else," Smith said.

Beazley spent 14 years as a fairgrounds executive and spent many years before that working at the fair as a seasonal employee.

Beazley served as CEO during a four-year period of highs and lows for the state-owned property in the heart of Costa Mesa. The annual OC Fair shattered attendance records during his tenure but he was also in charge when the Fair Board, to whom he reported, contemplated selling the land to a Newport Beach investment group. The proposed sale, which was advocated by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, was opposed by many Costa Mesa residents.

Smith noted that while the foundation has had executive directors in the past, Beazley is the first person to hold the title of CEO.

The foundation, in a news release, said the theater will begin renovations this fall, with the opening anticipated in fall of next year. Theater architect John Sergio Fisher, whose firm's credits include the La Jolla Playhouse and the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles, has designed the renovations for Balboa.

The revitalized theater is expected to show films and live entertainment and also participate in arts education programs. Beazley, who oversees programming as well as day-to-day operations and marketing, said his guiding philosophy for the new job is a quote attributed to author Victor Hugo: "All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come."

So how about reopening the theater with a Hugo-themed work — like the musical "Les Miserables," which was based on his novel?

"See, I wouldn't mind that at all," Beazley said, chuckling. "That's the mantra that's been coming back to my mind over and over again."

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