Start-up mentality takes stage at Balboa Village Theater

The revamped Balboa Village Theatre may resemble "a little more of a start-up" than a lavish performing arts center because of uncertainty over funding, the chief executive of its foundation said Monday.

Steve Beazley, who was tapped in September to lead the Balboa Performing Art Theater Foundation, said the group may scale down its previous $5.5-million vision for reopening the long-defunct theater at 707 E. Balboa Blvd., Newport Beach.

The foundation is having new architectural plans drawn up and as yet cannot quote project costs.

Regardless, the theater may be less formal than previously anticipated when it opens — the target is 2015. As an example, Beazley said, the foundation may opt for more austere seating.

"Rather than top-line, performing-arts-center-type seats, it may be a little bit more modest seating, more along the lines of a black-box design," Beazley said. "We don't know that yet, but I think that's the spectrum between a built-out performing arts center and more of a modest black box. But I don't know where we're going to fall in there quite yet."

The foundation has sought for years to bring back the Balboa Performing Arts Theater, which dates to the 1920s and closed in 1992. When reopened, as the Balboa Village Theatre, the venue will feature live entertainment, movies and educational programs with seating for 300.

Beazley said the planned programs and seating capacity would not change under the new concept. In addition to the architectural plans, which Tarzana-based John Sergio Fisher & Associates is preparing, the foundation has enlisted the firm AMS Planning & Research to create a business plan for the theater.

After both plans come in around the new year, the foundation will determine its next steps in terms of budget and design, Beazley said.

In a news release issued Monday, the foundation announced that its board had voted to dissolve itself to make way for a members. Donald Hecht, who was appointed chairman in October and will be the only remaining member, says he will begin lining up a new board in December.

Ralph Rodheim, one of the departed board members, said the move came out of a desire to find people who could raise funds more quickly.

"I think the entire board felt that the objective is to get the theater open, and that is the key and utmost importance," Rodheim said. "We have an outstanding president in Steve Beazley, but we were struggling in raising the sufficient funds to match what the city said they would pledge."

Rodheim added that the decision to change the board was "not about egos" but was fueled instead by the bottom line.

"I don't see this as a step backward," he said. "I see it as a step toward realism, because we've got to get it built, and this is, I think, our best chance of getting the project done. It's good for the whole village of Balboa and all of Newport Beach."

The city, which owns the theater property, proposed earlier this year giving a $3-million loan to the foundation if it raised an identical amount.

Spokeswoman Tara Finnigan said the City Council had discussed a possible loan at a study session and decided to consider approving it, although official council action has not been taken.

Beazley said whether the foundation would use the city loan or fund the remainder of the project through donations is up in the air.

"Nobody's taken it off the table," he said.

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