City rushes to improve Alex before redevelopment funds dry up

The Alex Theatre needs to stand on its own, city officials said Tuesday, but with the Redevelopment Agency giving it $415,000 a year, they are concerned the theater may buckle without the subsidy.

Barry McComb, chief executive of Glendale Arts, the nonprofit that operates the theater, said the historic venue is on its way to self-sufficiency, but it can’t afford vital capital improvement projects.

With the deadline for help from the Redevelopment Agency looming in 2015, the City Council, in its role as the Redevelopment Agency on Tuesday, approved giving it $3.9 million — $2.8 million of it earmarked since 2007 — for new dressing and meeting rooms, a loading dock and a subterranean floor.

McComb said the goal is to get the city to fund those improvements before the Central Glendale Project Area expires in 2015. The Redevelopment Agency can use revenues generated by higher property tax rolls on development projects within the designated area, which includes much of downtown.

“The idea is for the city to give us the theater in top-notch condition, and then we’ll take it from there,” McComb said.

Since 2007, the agency has spent $1 million on 16 projects at the theater, including sound upgrades, façade improvements and seat refurbishments, according to a city report. The allocation of $3.9 million for the new project to begin construction in 2012 is the most money the agency has given the theater at one time.

Although Councilman Ara Najarian voted to hand over the cash, he said the appropriation didn’t sit well.

“Is this just going to be a spiffier Alex that’s going to fall on hard times when we can’t subsidize it anymore?” Najarian asked.

McComb said the theater plans to increase a ticket facility fee paid by attendees to $2 from $1, increase fundraising, reduce utility expenses by switching to energy-efficient products and start charging community groups to use its box office in order to make more money.

The theater has to take the extra measures to become self-sufficient because it can’t rely on profit, which has fluctuated year to year, according to financial reports. In fiscal year 2010-11, it made just $48,842, but that was after logging a loss of $4,304 the year before.

The city bought the theater in 1992 and spent more than $10 million on improvements. City officials have justified the upgrades by pointing to the new businesses and restaurants the venue has attracted over the years.

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