Overhaul for Glendale's Alex Theatre

After months of hold-ups and headaches, city officials approved a roughly $5.3 million construction contract on Tuesday to expand the Alex Theatre, an improvement project officials say will make the historic venue more competitive as it is weaned off an annual government subsidy.

The theater's operator, Glendale Arts, currently gets $415,000 a year to manage the venue, but that subsidy is set to expire in 2015.

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Before then, it needs three large dressing rooms, a freight elevator, loading dock, more storage space, new electrical systems and a backstage passenger elevator so it can handle larger, more technical productions and move toward self-sustainability, officials have said.

Glendale Arts officials recently unveiled plans for a renovation project that would add about 6,600 square feet of space to the theater to make room for those improvements that are expected to attract a wider-range of clientele.

The City Council approved the contract in its dual role as the Successor Agency, a body that took over directing redevelopment work after state officials dissolved 400 redevelopment agencies throughout California in February.

The city has invested more than $10 million in redevelopment funds, which come from property taxes boosted by development in once-blighted areas, into the theater since 1992.

But the cash source dried up after lawmakers in Sacramento redirected most of the redevelopment-related property tax dollars to close a multi-billion dollar state budget gap last year.

Former Glendale redevelopment projects, such as the Alex expansion, have been tied up in red-tape ever since. There were times when the expansion was at risk of being canceled due to redevelopment dissolution crises.

Despite the challenges, Glendale officials pushed forward. After negotiating with the state Department of Finance, which now controls former redevelopment money, officials got the go-ahead to keep paying the annual management fee to Glendale Arts and cover the expansion.

The council awarded George C. Hopkins Construction Co. the contract to expand the theater after the company lowered the project's costs by $100,000.

The company, which has worked on several city projects, including the Adult Recreation Center, was the only firm to submit a bid on time.

While the project was originally estimated to cost $4.4 million, there is now a 20% contingency fund attached, which boosts the price tag. Some of the project's costs, such as paint, mirrors, and other finishes, have been pushed toward the end of the construction schedule in order to reduce the contract price.

The plan is to use the contingency money to cover those final touches, but if the contingency funds are used up early due to unexpected work, Glendale Arts may have to use its own funds to complete the job.

The project's budget has been tight ever since the end of redevelopment. The city has already promised to front $750,000 because of timing issues connected to the end of redevelopment. Officials plan to be reimbursed by the Department of Finance.

In addition to approving the construction contract on Tuesday, the council also green-lighted paying Glendale Arts $155,000 in former redevelopment funds to pack up and store theater equipment before construction begins.

The funding will also pay for extra stage hands to help move items and equipment while the freight elevator is installed.

Work is scheduled to begin in July and be complete by next May. The theater will be closed from July to November and then again sometime in the winter.

However, Christmas-time shows are slated to continue. Those productions, which include ballet and choral performances, are the theater's bread and butter, said Elissa Glickman, Glendale Arts' chief executive.

During the closure, Glendale Arts officials plan to focus on redesigning their website and launching a comprehensive programming, rental-attraction and audience-engagement plan.

According to its third-quarter financial report, which was presented to the council Tuesday, the theater's finances are on the rise.

Revenues increased by about 29% to $274,000, compared to the third quarter in 2012 and the capital and maintenance reserve account grew by about $90,000 to roughly $141,000 over the same period. The third quarter runs Jan. 1 through March 31.

Still, the five-month closure will prove challenging for the theater, which also struggled during a 2011 closure when it renovated its facade. But Glendale Arts officials are looking at it as a time to look to the future.

"The five-month closure, while fiscally challenging, offers us a chance to reboot and focus on our next 20 years as an arts and entertainment venue and economic force," wrote Glickman and Board Chair James Wilke in a letter to the council.


Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

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