Executive director at the Alex says its challenge is to find ways to use venue during the week

Attendance is up, but theater still reports loss
Executive director at the Alex says its challenge is to find ways to use venue during the week.

By Jason Wells

Glendale News Press
March 1, 2008

DOWNTOWN — Second-quarter financial data released Friday for the Alex Theatre reflected signs of a strengthening client base, a key indicator of how successful its role as an independent venue will be seven years from now when city subsidies dry up, officials said.

While its year-to-date loss had increased $42,000 to more than $247,700 over the same period last year, activity at the landmark theater had increased nearly 24%, bumping attendance up 4.8%, according to the report.

The report, which will be presented Tuesday to the Redevelopment Agency, cited higher maintenance and staff costs and increased insurance premiums for the loss, but touted a 9.1% increase in net rental revenue — the theater’s main source of revenue outside of city funds.

“We’re very happy that attendance is back on the upswing,” Executive Director Barry McComb. “For us, the challenge has always been to try and find ways to utilize the theater during the week.”

That challenge may be easier to overcome if the City Council — which props up theater operations with an annual $415,000 subsidy — approves a proposed overhaul of the theater’s management structure.

Since the city purchased the struggling theater in 1992, the nonprofit Alex Regional Theatre Board has managed operations there, but McComb is looking to change that with the proposed Arts Alliance — a new oversight group with a broader mission to expand the venue’s reach.

Instead of relying on film shoots to plug rental scheduling holes during the week, the theater has begun hosting more receptions in the foyer, which brings in less cash but attracts future business, McComb said.

And if the Arts Alliance is approved, an outside sales manager would be brought in to attract more business from outlying areas, he said.

“Certainly, making that move is a big piece of the strategy for how we’re going to reduce our reliance on the city,” he said.

Much of that profit growth will need to take root ahead of 2015, when city subsidies will end with the sunset of the Central Glendale Redevelopment Area.

Those subsidies have played a key role in the theater’s financial solvability, city officials said. The city’s $415,000 transfer this year wiped away the theater’s $247,700 deficit, leaving a $167,300 surplus, according to the report.

But it’s easy to get caught up in the drama of dollar figures and overlook the equally important growth in attendance and activities — an indication that efforts to increase awareness and tailor programming to community tastes are paying off, said Arman Kayvanian, who serves on the city Arts & Culture Commission.

In the second quarter, 57,627 people attended events at the Alex, a 4.8% increase over the same period last year, according to the report. And more of those events were performance-based, which filled in the 66.7% drop in film and TV shoots.

Over the past month, hundreds of stakeholders have attended theater-sponsored community input meetings on how the proposed Arts Alliance can better serve Glendale, while giving broader assessments of the challenges current artists face here.

And in January, the arts commission established a subcommittee to facilitate more intense strategic arts planning between the city and public.

“It’s finally paying off for us, I guess,” Kayvanian said.

The Redevelopment Agency, which is also expected to authorize $16,250 for ongoing capital improvements at the theater, meets at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday in City Council Chambers, 613 E. Broadway.

JASON WELLS covers City Hall. He may be reached at (818) 637-3235 or by e-mail at jason.wells@latimes.com.