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Door Shuts on New Theater

With Redevelopment Agencies Dissolved, Funds No Longer Available

Supporters of the in Livermore got some bad news as the year drew to a close last week.

There won’t be any available to pay for it.

On Thursday the state Supreme Court upheld the legislature’s vote to dissolve the agencies, and struck down a bill that provided a loophole for the agency to continue funding projects.

The redevelopment agencies use a portion of property tax money to partner with developers to revitalize blighted arenas. Apparently, downtown Livermore was designated as blighted. That kind of government money going into redevelopment makes sense when it comes to poor, especially urban, areas where developers would be reluctant to risk money. One large-scale success story is the San Diego Gaslamp Quarter.

When I was growing up in San Diego, that area was a danger zone best avoided even during the daylight hours. Now it’s a bustling area highly attractive to tourists and locals alike.

But funding a theater in the downtown Livermore when a nice, albeit smaller theater, already exists? That does not seem to fulfill the spirit of the redevelopment plan, although it complied with the law.

These plans for a plush new theater come at a time when school districts struggle to offer fewer and fewer services from adequately funded GATE programs to arts education. Many city employees have had limited or no raises and work furloughs digging into their pockets. And these, among other fiscal concerns, need to be addressed.

The sad fact is that redevelopment agencies may be a luxury tax payers can no longer afford. The money that would have gone into these agencies — about $1 billion — is being redirected to schools, public safety and city general funds.

The Livermore city council voted in May 2009 to build a larger regional theater downtown. The plan was to have redevelopment agency money paying about two-thirds of the estimated $184 million price tag.

Many Livermore residents were up in arms when the city council opted to use the to back bonds to pay for the theater.

In the past, I’ve been an agnostic when it comes to the new theater. There are pros and cons, with the biggest item in the no column being the cost of a new theater that won’t be able to pay its own way.

The fights to fill seats, and most tickets are priced out of reach of many residents. Theater has never been a cheap entertainment option, and bringing in big entertainment names equals putting up big bucks.

Some folks have questioned whether Livermore could draw top drawer entertainers. The truth is you can get almost any performer for a price — even Grammy winners often play private parties and corporate gigs — but that doesn’t mean getting cheeks in the seats. 

It was a risky proposal when the Livermore City Council voted to use our general fund to back the bonds needed to build the planned theater. Most investors wouldn’t go near the bonds until the Redevelopment Agencies issue was resolved.

It would appear it has been resolved.

There will be no more redevelopment money coming in. But now the city has to decide if there’s another path to be taken. A larger venue would be fantastic for our community, but now might not be the time to take on such an extravagance.

The idea of a nice downtown hotel makes sense.  Or even some specialty shops, or a bed and breakfast — the downtown railroad station would make a nifty foundation for one. But something needs to be done in that space.

Otherwise, the city has a pretty pricey parking lot in a prime location.

Ruth McKernan January 05, 2012 at 06:39 PM
It used to be that Large Theaters were built privately. There would be fund raisers held like Black & White Balls where people who were interested in Regional theaters would pay for high priced tickets with the knowledge that the money would be used to fund the building of a Theater. There would have been a lot more community endoresement and buy in. Now a days there are special fees leveed on businesses who are in near proximity with some sort of promise of success in the future. Special Commissions are organized to write grant applications and guarantees of backing are given with out consideration to what the general publics opionions and interests might be. I think the city and the regional theater people have miss calculated the interest in the Regional Theater and they have over estimated the benefit to the city commerce. In the end the theater might employ 30 people...at an enormous cost, only to compete with other well established theaters that are already struggling. Instead the city should look at building a "Santana Row" type complex in the downtown that incorporates an underground parking structure, retail space on the street level and possible appartment or hotel type space on the second and third level. It would be in keeping with the current demographics of the city which is 35 to 45 years of age. It would also augment what is already great about our current downtown and make it even more desirable for business and pleasure.
lenalex January 05, 2012 at 09:35 PM
Ms. McKernan, With all due respect, 80% of the performing arts center built in the United States over the past three decades have had some type of public (city, county or state) funding support. In approximately half of those projects, the center was constructed, owned and maintaned by a governmental agency and leased (usually for $1 per year) to a not-for-profit organization for its operation. With regard to our estimates of future economic benefits, we have used nationally recognized standards to make these calculations and have verified those projections through actual results obtained by performing arts centers in other communities that are similar to Livermore. As for competing with "other well established theaters that are already struggling," I'd be curious to know what theaters you are referring to. Len Alexander Executive Director LVPAC
Ruth McKernan January 06, 2012 at 01:33 AM
San Jose Performing Art Theater for one. I was in the audience the night the Head of that Organization came out to announce that they would be able to continue for another year because the City of San Jose had finally approved funding. This was in front of an almost full house for the performance of "The King and I" Broadway production with Debbie Boone. The type of productions that you are advocating for this theater. While I enjoy going to the theater once in a while. I find it curious that the San Jose Performing arts Theater draws from a community of almost a 500 thousand people, and they are having difficulty with funding. How is it that you will be able to fill 2000 seats when you are drawing from a region of less then 200 thousand. While I will aquiesce to your statement that 80% of the theater in the last 30 years. This is the problem, Theaters built 40 to 80 years ago were funded through private efforts not public takings. You were already "given" the land, Which is significant. This type of funding is beyond the actual building of the theater. This is the type of funding that needs more then just the city council to approve. It is the type of funding that requires parcel taxes and such. It is the type of funding that should require a vote of the people of the community. As far as research done on land use, for or against the theater versus another economic idea. I am sure that there are studies that would prove my idea viable too
HeavenSaveUsFromTheseImbeciles January 06, 2012 at 03:34 AM
I'm curious Len, is trolling the comments section of the Patch part of your job description? Surely, you have more important things you could be doing? Perhaps if you spent more time finding better LVPAC events, we wouldn't have to suffer through the likes of Chinese Gymnasts and one armed banjo players.
Livermore Lover January 06, 2012 at 03:44 AM
Hey Heaven, they're on a budge, it's a cost saving measure. Banjo players with two arms cost twice as much, and you can't beat the discount from imported knock-off Chinese gymnasts.
HeavenSaveUsFromTheseImbeciles January 06, 2012 at 03:48 AM
Dear Lover, They won't budge? Or they're on a budget? Wasup? Doesn't Susan Young rock? Best writer in Livermore, better than Thomas Friedman even, less hyperbole, and more punch. Wonder if she knows the truth?
Livermore Lover January 06, 2012 at 03:53 AM
Heaven, the truth about what? How many gymnasts the Bankhead has stored in the basement that they can pull out when bookings are slow (honestly, I don't want to know)? I think Susan does rock, but throwing rocks at Mr. Alexander is a simple sport, try juggling banjo players, much more challenging.
Livermore Lover January 06, 2012 at 04:09 AM
Heaven, She Who Will Not Be Named didn't steal the election, she bought and paid for it fair and square through her PACs. It's all there in the financial disclosures. I'm sure it was also published in the Joandependant, on page 9 in 2 point font. Break out your magnifying glasses and check.
HeavenSaveUsFromTheseImbeciles January 06, 2012 at 04:12 AM
Good point Lover, she DID pay for it through her political action committee "Feinds of Livermore" but even her astonishing donations couldn't keep poor Kamena from offing himself. Heard he was very annoyed with her for dropping his mug from the campaign literature...but what are you gonna do? He was bad for business.
Livermore Lover January 06, 2012 at 04:27 AM
Heaven, I am sure as the saying goes, it was nothing personal, just business. I bet when Kamena became a bad investment she had a Vlad the Impaler moment and thought about dropping him onto City Hall from the plane she had flying around with the election banner. After all, it would have been the only way he would have been able to get back into the Council Chambers.
Livermore Lover January 06, 2012 at 04:38 AM
Heaven, maybe the people of Livermore could request they book an appearance of Stallone at the Bankhead doing this imitation of Marion Cobretti from Cobra, you know, the one where he says "You're the disease, and I'm the cure". I'm sure it would be a good draw, though competing against "nationally-known acts" like Trout Fishing in America, you never know.
HeavenSaveUsFromTheseImbeciles January 06, 2012 at 04:41 AM
Lover, you stray...the point here is that Draco uses her reptilian hive minded followers to infiltrate every BOD (board of directors) in the area in order to get the goods on everything and everyone in town...and uses her money, influence and OPM (other people's money) to gain control over the city government. She's working on One Ring to Rule Them All - first she nails down the City Council, then the School District, then LARPD...the tri-lateral power structure of Livermore....then she chips us (stop it!)
Livermore Lover January 06, 2012 at 04:56 AM
So, she's a chip off the old block, eh? Too bad she lost the ability of spending the redevelopment agency funds on her pet projects. Having a 9 story tall building in downtown Livermore where she could use her all-seeing eye to spy down on people, like Sauron did, would have made her happy. At least until the next goal to conquer appeared. One problem with power-hungry people, they are never satisfied.
HeavenSaveUsFromTheseImbeciles January 06, 2012 at 04:56 AM
Trout Fishing in America? A Bass and guitar player..well Schubert wrote The Trout Piano Quintet...maybe it's a musician's sense of humor. But seriously Lover, something needs to be done. Wait!..I'm channeling a Masonic meeting from a prior point in time...what? They threw a red herring into the election to make sure Barbara wouldn't win by getting a college girl to run for mayor from a 4th generation Masonic Family? Nice to have friends in high places - those are really high places, like Mt. Horeb High. She pulled in 900+ votes, and Barbara lost by 302.
Livermore Lover January 06, 2012 at 05:04 AM
Well, to push the synergy theme between the downtown and the theater, I am sure people would love to go out for dinner, then stare at Trout. It's better than the April lineup at the Bankhead - only 5 dates have any shows booked. Maybe they can fill the theater with water and stock it with fish. I am sure providing deep sea fishing in Livermore would be a hit that could draw in visitors from around the country. After all, how many other theaters/fish tanks do you know of?
HeavenSaveUsFromTheseImbeciles January 06, 2012 at 05:08 AM
More like a chip off the old DNA - what's in that junk DNA anyway? Well, it's high time the state bitch slapped these developers. The Redevelopment Funds had become the private developers honey pot. Notice how they tore down the buildings behind Main Street in order to BLIGHT it? Rules are rules. LVPAC is a partner with the city is this misbegotten fantasy that a behemoth monstrosity of a theater will generate economic relief to the area. The Bankhead has not generated additional tax revenues for downtown Livermore, and the Regional Center won't either....unless...unless...they put in a convention center with it. Now THAT might work to generate income..make Livermore a destination point..but the citizens of Livermore will never let it happen. NIMBY...so they should build it down the road - say on the north side of 580 at N. Livermore Ave. Woops - FOL Land....she would send out the flying monkeys.
Livermore Lover January 06, 2012 at 05:40 AM
Well, I agree with the legislature that around the state, Redevelopment Agency money had been abused and it needed to be reigned in. After all, it's the people's money, not a piggybank for developers to dip into when banks see that the project is a flaming turd and refuse to back it. That being said, now that they plowed the old Lucky and Railroad Cafe, they need to do something with the land, something that will help Livermore, not just a small subset of Livermore residents.
HeavenSaveUsFromTheseImbeciles January 06, 2012 at 05:40 AM
Paula Poundstone IS funny though. Although not as funny as she used to be - NPR tamed her. (She had to wait too long!) Yes, April is a barren landscape at the Bankhead, and that is something that a hotel would notice..a barren landscape of events. They want rooms filled EVERY night - not just on weekends. Can you imagine the rates they would charge? "Sorry we only have rooms booked 3 nights a week therefor your room rate is $350.00 a night". I heard the Bankhead can't survive without the Regional Center. That's probably correct since I heard it from an "inner circle" person...why don't they just give the Bankhead back to the City and let LARPD run it? Now they know how to run an agency. The Bankhead belongs to the community, although that's news to LVPAC.
patty robins January 06, 2012 at 06:18 AM
you two are absolutely way better then THURSDAY night tv !!!!
lenalex January 06, 2012 at 05:15 PM
H.S.U.F.T.I, Yes, I get to respond to folks like you. With regard to the Chinese acrobats, they're one of the most popular attractions at the Bankhead, even if not your favorite. As for one arm banjo players, if you find one or, perhaps, are one, let me know. Len Alexander Executive Director LVPAC
Kristofer Noceda (Editor) January 06, 2012 at 05:59 PM
No personal attacks, folks. @HeavenSaveUsFromTheseImbeciles please resubmit your comment without them. Thanks.
lenalex January 06, 2012 at 06:24 PM
Ms. Mckernan, Whether or not there's a regional theater in Livermore will not solve San Jose's ongoing difficulty in attracting suburban residents to their downtown. The target population for the regional theater is over 980,000 folks living with 45 miles of downtown Livermore. The Bankhead already draws audiences from a greater distance for certain attractions. Yes, the City will lease the land to LVPAC; however LVPAC will pay the City more than $10 million in credit enhancement fees over the life of the financing. The project is a joint venture between LVPAC and the City, since neither party has the resources to undertake the project alone. Len Alexander Executive Director LVPAC
RedDogLead January 06, 2012 at 07:22 PM
Heu guys---how 'bout a gig at the Bankhead in April???
Raleigh January 06, 2012 at 08:10 PM
The point was not how to solve San Jose's regional theater problems, with or without a regional theater in Livermore, but to illustrate that San Jose's theater is not a financial success. You asked for an example of a well established theater that was struggling, and she gave you an excellent example of a well respected regional theater, which is why it would be very nice if you could please clarify: If the proposed Livermore regional theater can attract patrons from a radius of 45 miles away, why is the San Jose’s theater draw not recognized by you or the consultants as inspiring an equal 45 mile radius of potential audience? The San Jose Theater has diverse exciting programs and if Yelp is a reflection of popular opinion it has very high reviews for the venue, parking, and programs. What distinguishes Livermore’s ability to build a regional theater that will add to the city’s economy, when San Jose’s popular regional theater is currently receiving aid from the city?
Kristen January 06, 2012 at 08:32 PM
@ Karen Hogen - I agree with that the downtown is nice. It is great to see it doing well and I hope it continues. But with that being said...I also agree with Valuegal. We do have some problems. One of them is Parking. I had some elderly relatives come to town. I had to take them elsewhere to go out to eat because parking two blocks away would be to difficult for them. There is also a traffic problem. For those of us that live in South Livermore it is really hard to get over to Target (that side of town shops) using First Street...or the 4th street cut over for that matter. Now that Target has opened in Dublin I head there instead. I am sure I am not the only one who has made that change. So, now Dublin gets the tax dollars not Livermore.
Linda Ryan January 06, 2012 at 11:49 PM
Anyone who makes mean comments like this should identify themselves. Too easy to throw stones.
patty robins January 07, 2012 at 02:04 AM
IM with you, Linda, and I know others are too...anyone, despite their "reasons", that doesnt use their real name can NOT be taken seriously..........H S U F T I and Livermore lover are just pure contrived entertainment, that's for sure ......
lenalex January 07, 2012 at 02:07 AM
Raleigh, I think you missed my point. The problem in San Jose is San Jose itself, not the theaters; for the same reasons people tell me they don't go to San Francisco any more. If you could see the same national or international attraction at a lower ticket price, pay less for a nice restaurant meal, park for free and be home in 20 minutes which location would you choose? Len Alexander Executive Director LVPAC
lenalex January 07, 2012 at 02:15 AM
Too bad they don't use their real names. If they did we might know how to book them. As Patty says, better than Thursday night tv, but I'm sure they have better things to do.
Kristofer Noceda (Editor) January 07, 2012 at 02:19 AM
Folks we're going to shut down commenting on this column soon. If there's any further questions you have re: regional theater please e-mail me at kristofer.noceda@patch.com and we'll reach out to officials and produce a FAQ report. Have a great weekend, everyone.

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