But for the past 20 years, the Balboa Theater has been dark, waiting for someone to restore the storied venue to its former glory.
After more than a decade of unsuccessful attempts, the Balboa Performing Arts Theater Foundation board of directors thinks they’ve finally found the man to lead the charge in transforming the theater into a haven for the performing arts.
That man is Steve Beazley.
On September 1, Beazley was appointed CEO of The Balboa Performing Arts Theater Foundation. He brings with him years of community service. Beazley served as President and CEO of the OC Fair and Events Center from 2008 to 2012, which followed 10 years on the Fair’s board as Sr. Vice President. Beazley has consulted with Pacific Symphony, OC Great Park, and the Simon Foundation for Education and Housing. Beazley was also a member of South Coast Repertory’s acting company in the early 1980s.
“Steve brings his visionary leadership experience and deep history with the Orange County community to the Balboa Performing Arts Theater at a time when we are about to break ground on its renovation and the City of Newport Beach has stepped up its involvement in the project,” said BPATF Board Chair Todd Pennington in a statement. “We know his energy and enthusiasm will help us transform this long dormant community asset into a popular gathering place for outstanding arts experiences that will form the centerpiece for the continued revitalization of the Balboa Village.”
“Of all the reasons I took the position, maybe head and shoulders above the rest, is that the theater is supposed to be part of a larger community growth plan,” noted Beazley during an interview in front of the theater this week. “The opportunity for the theater to contribute to the perpetuation and increased reputation of the village made me more excited than anything else.”
Beazley said he was aware of the ups and downs of the theater’s fundraising attempts.
In 1999, John and Donna Crean gave the Balboa Performing Arts Theater Foundation $1 million, and that along with numerous smaller donation over the ensuing years helped pay for a small staff that tried valiantly to raise the additional support needed to refurbish the theater.
Beazley said that after learning about increased support from the city and talking to current BPATF board members, he felt this was the right time for the theater to take its best effort.
“Some say it may be its last effort,” he observed. “With its starts and stops, there have been a few skeptics, but we’re in the process of turning skeptics into optimists again.”
The theater has jumpstarted that process by adding three noted community members to its board of directors: Don Hecht, Lori Loftus, and Ralph Rodheim.
“When prominent people join a board, that’s a different level of commitment,” stated Beazley. “That’s a signal that they think the project is viable. I have experience but I am not a known commodity. They are people of credibility.”
Beazley said his next step is to help create a new business plan that will demonstrate the theater’s sustainability over time.
That was a key concern voiced by the city council during a study session last May, when they discussed giving the Balboa Performing Arts Theater Foundation a $3 million loan subject to the Foundation obtaining matching funds.
At the study session, City Manager Dave Kiff presented a proposed concept in which the City would issue a $3 million challenge loan using existing Facilities Finance Planning reserves that are expected to be replenished in May of 2014 from receipt of a public benefit fee of $19 million from the Irvine Company, and indicated that the City would have the first mortgage on all improvements since it owns the land.
Also at that study session, many people in the arts and business community spoke in support of the Balboa Theater, including Dan Miller of the Irvine Company; John Forsyte, President of Pacific Symphony; Julia Foster, Chief Development Officer for the Irvine Barclay Theater; Steven Rosansky, President and CEO of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce (who noted that the Chamber Board voted unanimously to endorse the proposed plan); Rick Stein, Executive Director of Arts Orange County; and John Forsyte, President of Pacific Symphony.
Forsyte told the city council that “it’s difficult to raise money without the perception of activity and promise, but as the theater begins to take shape, that’s when fundraising will take place. Orange County is prolific in raising money.”
Stein cited data from a study by the Gary Anderson Center for Economic Research at Chapman University which, using the theater’s initial business plan, showed that the economic impact of the Balboa Theater, once opened, would be $15 million per year, with tax revenues estimated at between $50,000 and $150,000 per year.
“This will be an anchor for the revitalization of Balboa Village, and also will be a significant entry into the arts and cultural scene as our only professional arts venue in the city,” said Councilman Mike Henn. “I want to emphasize that this is an approach, a concept, a plan to move forward. It’s a conditional plan. The theater needs to raise more money, and we need to see a business plan that is credible and accessible to its achievability.”
Councilwoman Nancy Gardner agreed that a new business plan was crucial, although Mayor Keith Curry said that in his opinion a business plan should not be predicated on ongoing support for the theater, adding that “it’s one way we can support the redevelopment of the village.”
“We now have to take certain action steps, which includes the business plan and construction plans,” observed Beazley, “but the project has a lot of emotion behind it, which really is going to be the wind in our sales. The more positive emotion we can build, the more credibility, and that’s what gives the project momentum.”
According to information released by the Balboa Performing Arts Theater board, the Foundation has all the permits in hand needed to move forward, including a building permit that was issued two weeks ago. They also have nearly $2 million in the bank, leaving $1 million needed to match the city’s proposed loan of $3 million.
“I believe there is a community out there who wants to get it done,” Beazley said. “However, they want to be sure it has the possibility to be done. I know things have been tried before, but this is not to be compared to past efforts. This is an effort unto itself, and one that I truly believe this time will work.”