Balboa Village Theatre Dissolves, Rebuilds Board

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Steve Beazley in front of the Balboa Theatre.
— Photo by Christopher Trela

The Board of Directors of the Balboa Performing Arts Theatre Foundation, the nonprofit organization guiding the rebirth of the historic, city-owned Balboa Village Theatre, voted to dissolve the current board membership, except for the newly named Chairman of the Board Dr. Donald Hecht, according to a press release issued by the foundation on Monday. The board also encouraged Dr. Hecht to build a new board and revision the theatre.

“The Board discussed and decided that while its current membership has made great progress toward  reopening the theatre, that a new group of planners, thinkers and community support builders would be best able to complete the reopening,” said Dr. Hecht in a statement. “I want to acknowledge the substantial contributions of the former board members in bringing this project to its current status, and I applaud the Board’s selfless decision. I will work to build a board and theatre that will honor their work.”

Hecht said he would meet with each former board member to determine if there is a role they would like to play in reopening this theatre.

According to the press release, Dr. Hecht will also lead a redesign of the theatre. Plans for the redesign will begin to be unveiled in early 2014. The theatre’s reopening is targeted for mid-2015. Dr. Hecht will begin recruiting new board members in mid-December.

The board appointed Dr. Hecht chairman of the board last month. Hecht and his wife Sue live on Balboa Peninsula. In 1978, Hecht founded California Southern University, where he is President Emeritus. He also sits on the boards of Pacific Symphony and Big Brothers, Big Sisters.

“One of the conditions set forth by the City for the foundation to qualify for the City’s challenge loan was to build and develop the foundation’s Board of Directors,” stated Councilman Mike Henn in the press release. Henn, whose district includes the Balboa Village Theatre, added that “I am confident Dr. Hecht will build a strong board which will bring the theatre’s vision into reality and most importantly secure the community’s support of the theatre.”

Originally opened in 1928 as the Ritz Theater – a vaudeville house and silent movie palace – the theatre changed its name in 1939 to The Balboa Theatre. The theatre changes gears several times, and was a Pussycat Theatre that screened adult films in the early 1970s, and then became an art house that screened everything from “Citizen Kane” to midnight showings of Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

The theatre closed its doors in 1992. In 1996, the Balboa Theater Performing Arts Foundation was formed to renovate the theater.

The theatre has tried several times since then to raise sufficient funds to reopen the theatre, but has had limited success. However, the theatre has become one of the focal points in revitalization plans for Balboa Village.

Steve Beazley, who was brought on as President and CEO in September, said the new design will be more modest and less costly.

“Money is a concern,” said Beazley. “The mentality of the board was that we have to get the theatre started—that’s the best fundraising mechanism. We need to open our doors sooner rather than later. The city council wants to get the theatre open too. I haven’t heard anything that’s changed their support for the theatre.”

Beazley noted that his role as CEO has not changed with the restructuring of the board.

“I was brought in to execute a theatre, and that has not changed,” said Beazley, a former president of the Orange County Fair board who helped oversee the opening of the Pacific Amphitheatre. “I understood there was one goal: to open the theater.”

Beazley noted that board membership is not the only way to participate in the Balboa Village Theatre.

“We have advisory councils, and a guild. As I like to say, it takes a village to raise a theater.”

Beazley is working on a new business plan, one of the elements the city council stipulated would be essential to them providing funds to the theatre.

“We need to find a convergent point between the business plan, redesign plans, and implementation plan,” he noted. “We need to be absolutely clear on what the business plan is and what the facility will look like.”

Beazley is aware of the theatre project’s checkered past, and acknowledges some people will interpret the board revision as another start and stop, but Beazley said he has to press on.

“Time is of the essence, but we don’t believe we are going to miss any particular deadline by revisioning the theatre. I don’t see this as another start and stop. It’s a final step before the theatre will actually be built.”

For more information, visit BalboaVillageTheatre.org. The website is being rebuilt, but visitors can sign up for a mailing list to receive updates on the theatre’s progress.

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