Balboa Theater Morphs Into Fine Arts Center

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Artists rendering of what the interior of the proposed Balboa Village Fine Arts Center might look like (from documents submitted to the city council).
Artists rendering of what the interior of the proposed Balboa Village Fine Arts Center might look like (from documents submitted to the city council).

Balboa Village may be getting a new fine arts center.

At the Newport Beach City Council study session on Tuesday, a new concept for the Balboa Theater site at 707 East Balboa Blvd. was presented to favorable comments from all six city council members (Mayor Pro Tem Ed Selich was absent but did send an email with his favorable comments).

Up until now, the Balboa Performing Arts Theatre Foundation had been raising money to rebuild the historic Balboa Theater and turn it into a performing arts center. In March of this year, the Foundation Board asked the City Council to consider a smaller-scale renovation. Council members supported the idea but wanted to see a new business plan. When higher cost estimates came in, the Foundation had internal discussions as to the most appropriate use of the facility.

Council Member Mike Henn, board members of the Balboa Performing Arts Theatre Foundation and President and CEO Steve Beazley, and city staff worked on the new concept over the past several weeks.

“It involves moving away from a traditional theater,” City Manager Dave Kiff told the city council. “This concept is a community space, a big open space, a flexible space, where fine arts and arts education, and performances including civic events,” could happen.

Kiff said it could be a wide mix of arts exhibits, education, films, facility rentals, classes, neighborhood events, civic events, and other activities.

Kiff went over the cost estimates of such a project, which were prepared by GKK Works and are detailed in a staff report.

According to the report, bringing the existing building to the open floor/flexible space concept for the Fine Arts Center would cost about $2.84 million, including most soft costs (design, insurance, construction management). Tenant improvements would be another $320,000, with site work at $210,000. The total cost then is estimated at $3.37M. A more formal cost estimate may be necessary should the Council wish to pursue this concept further.

A conceptual pro forma for the Fine Arts Center outlined in the staff report suggests about $350,000 in regular operating costs annually, offset by about $150,000 per year in fees and facility rentals, for a net subsidy

Steve Beazley in front of the Balboa Village Theater
Steve Beazley in front of the Balboa Village Theater

of $200,000 annually. The first year expenses would be increased by about $60,000 for one-time supplies, tables, and related furnishings.

This assumes about 12 special events/performances a year (considerably less than the Balboa Village Theater’s proposed use of up to 90 performances per year). Staffing would consist of one full-time recreation coordinator, a part time facilities maintenance worker, a part-time senior recreation leader (35 hours per week), and pooled part-time recreation leader staff (40 hours per week).

Council Member Nancy Gardner wondered how those subsidies compared with other city facilities such as the Newport Coast Community Center and OASIS Senior Center.

Laura Detweiler, recreation and senior services director, said they used Newport Coast figures as a model for the Fine Arts Center estimates.

“In other words, it’s not unusual for us to subsidize such a building. None of them are profit centers,” asked Council Member Gardner.

“Correct,” replied Detweiler. “The nice things about this location, we do get a lot of requests for weddings on the beach and this is a good place to come back for a reception.”

Detweiler said she is confident that the fine arts center would be well-used by the community for classes and other community uses.

“There is a challenge here, which is parking,” noted Council Member Gardner. “What sorts of restrictions does that bring, and does this still work with our agreement with the coastal commission?”

Detweiler explained they have had no problems working out parking issues as far as parents dropping children off for classes. Kiff noted that they did look at the coastal commission agreement and this is still in alignment with that.

“We do see there is a community, civic hub for the village that is lacking today, we think it is consistent with permit approval, and we think that the arts master plan will identify a lack of space needs for exhibitions and shows, and programming will be in demand,” said Kiff.

Kiff told the council that if they want to explore this concept further, he suggests doing a more formal cost estimate and look more at the design, and do a more detailed pro forma.

“I want to thank the citizens of Newport Beach that have supported the idea of this theater, with their contributions over the years,” said Council Member Henn. “Although the fundraising for the theater did not succeed, it actually did succeed over the years on this long and winding road. While at the end not enough was raised, still, the idea has great value. I think the theater itself has great value for the revitalization for Balboa Village, and for arts and culture in our city. What we have done here is turn around the emphasis…this is for the benefit of the community, the greater community and certainly Balboa. It still retains the connection to live performances. Although I was a strong supporter of the original plan, I am even more excited about this new approach. I am convinced we have ended up in the right place finally. I hope my council colleagues agree that we need to study this and make an actionable plan out of this.”

“I agree, this is excellent and supports the community, but money has been raised for the past 15 to 20 years. Is that not our problem? Is it the foundation’s problem?” asked Council Member Gardner.

City Attorney Aaron Harp replied that those are issues they could work through and come up with something that would be agreeable for everyone who contributed money.

Henn proposed a donor wall with recognition to those who have donated to get the theater to this point.

All council members added their positive comments and agreed to have the proposal further vetted and placed on a future city council agenda.

“I think the reaction they had was very positive,” said Beazley after the study session. “It puts the project where it needs to be, in the hands of the city.”

Beazley said the new concept came from discussions with the city back in July once the Foundation realized that donor pledges had leveled off at around $500,000. The Foundation told the city they may need to look at alternatives, and after numerous discussions the new concept was formed.

Beazley noted that the Foundation may still have a role in the new arts center.

“When the plan comes back to council, there will be line items related to the foundation, their funds, and how they may or not interact with the new plan,” he said.


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