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By Tim Hunt

Huge financial challenges surround the Bankhead Theater

Uploaded: Feb 18, 2014

David Hyslop certainly has his work cut out.
Hyslop joined the Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center recently after Ted Giatas departed after just two months on the job. Giatas had replaced long-time executive director Len Alexander who retired in August.
Hyslop's challenge is substantial. The performing arts group operates the 500-seat Bankhead Theater, a key draw to refurbished downtown Livermore along with the multi-screen movie theater. The group had planned to build a 2,000-seat regional performing arts center on the vacant parcel bounded by Railroad, Livermore Avenue and L Street.
Redevelopment funds from the city of Livermore were the lynchpin in those plans, but that money went away after Gov. Brown and the Legislature abolished redevelopment agencies in 2012. The non-profit sued in Sacramento Superior Court, but lost the first round.
Given the stakes, a legal victory is unlikely. If the performing arts group were to prevail on appeal, there is way too much money at stake for California not to appeal to the state Supreme Court.
That means Hyslop is charged with figuring out a way for the Bankhead to become sustainable. Given the non-profit has shown only one year with a positive bottom line, his expertise and experience will be welcome. The group showed a positive $2.9 million in 2009 that is overwhelmed by losses of $1.8 million in 2008, $961,000 in 2010, $666,000 in 2011 and $1.4 million in 2012, according to federal 990 tax forms.
The non-profit owes $22.5 million (about the cost of the Bankhead theater—another $9 million has been invested in the big theater) and faces debt payments of $310,000 in the next six weeks. To stay afloat last year while the law suit was pursued, the group borrowed $475,000 from the city.
The performing arts center board, led by Phil Wente, is loaded with community leaders and successful business people. Their challenge is to figure out how to join with the city and Alameda County (both investors in the theater through dedicated funds) to figure out how to make the Bankhead sustainable and reduce the debt to a manageable level.
That will require all of their collective wisdom and experience, but it is a worthwhile endeavor. I have been an outspoken skeptic of the regional theater, but have supported the Bankhead since the idea was first floated. It is a great venue for local arts groups and the right type of touring act—if the debt and overhead can be lowered, then perhaps the rental costs can be set so they are more affordable for the local performing arts groups.