Glendale moves to protect future use of Alex Theatre

Glendale officials may not be able to block the state from selling the Alex Theatre, but they can prevent a future buyer from turning the historic cultural site into a church or other type of venue they don't want at the prominent downtown location.

Last week, officials suggested that Glendale change the zoning of the land beneath the Alex Theatre to restrict its use to civic or cultural purposes.

“It adds another layer of protection to that particular facility,” said Gillian van Muyden, general counsel for the city's Community Development Department, at a Planning Commission meeting at City Hall.

On Wednesday, planning commissioners recommended that the City Council include the theater as part of the Civic Center District.

While most districts are geographically contiguous, the Civic Center is not. The district currently includes City Hall, the Los Angeles County Superior Courthouse, Central Library, Adult Recreation Center and the National Guard Armory, according to the city.

The proposed change is one of many steps cultural advocates and local officials have taken to save the theater from a state grab.

Elissa Glickman, interim chief executive of Glendale Arts, the nonprofit that runs the theater, applauded the zoning change proposal.

“It really does limit what people can do with the venue,” she said. “It ensures that it stays some sort of performing arts or civic center space, rather than becoming a swap meet or something else that's less palatable.”

Not only has Glendale put millions into the theater, the venue often hosts civic events, such as the annual Armenian Genocide Commemoration.

“It's one of those few buildings that has an importance to the population,” Tim Foy, assistant director of planning, told the Planning Commission.

The theater was once owned by Glendale's Redevelopment Agency, but in February, Gov. Jerry Brown killed local redevelopment, sending those assets and property tax dollars to the state to help bridge a multibillion-dollar budget gap.

Last year, the City Council transferred the Alex Theatre from the Redevelopment Agency to the city to protect it, but officials don't know if the preventive measure will be allowed to stand. City Council members have said they don't want the theater to be sold and become a church or a bowling alley.

The theater is in an area that permits places of worship and several entertainment uses, according to a city report.

City officials plan to ask a board of county, city and school representatives in charge of overseeing the redevelopment wind-down to help block the state from selling the theater. Glendale Arts representatives also lobbied Sacramento lawmakers in hopes of protecting the theater.

The organization is planning a fundraising campaign in case it needs to buy the theater, but the cloudiness surrounding redevelopment may make donors wary, Glickman said.

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