EL CAJON — Dustin Holum, a 2000 Valhalla High graduate, grew up performing, volunteering and later working as a member of a youth-theater group at the East County Performing Arts Center in El Cajon.
Now the project manager of ShowTec, Inc., an event planning group that provides design and production services for theater and other events, Holum would like nothing more than to see the once-thriving ECPAC - closed for several years and in need of repairs and upgrades - get its act together again.
"I would love to see it reopened," Holum said after Monday night's informal workshop of the "Save ECPAC - ECPAC Foundation" group.
About two dozen supporters, including Holum and group spokesman Ray Lutz, met in a venue across the street from the theater to discuss how to save the venue, which opened in 1977 - several years before Holum was born.
"It's a great facility; great for actors, groups and schools," the 30-year-old El Cajon resident said. "It could attract large groups like high school dance competitions, but there are a few (problems), like its dressing rooms... which were built in 1977... without air conditioning."
Lutz gave an overview of ECPAC's past, its current needs and his vision for the future of what he terms the city's "Jewel Box." He noted concerts that were held at the 1,142-seat ECPAC, including the Dixie Chicks, the late Lou Rawls and Tony Bennett.
Possible plans include having corporate sponsors, with Lutz mentioning "Taylor Guitars Theater" and "Barona Stage." Other ideas are having electronic signs at the venue, and a large freeway sign "to promote the entire downtown area" along Interstate 8 near Magnolia Avenue.
Lutz said that to stay competitive with venues of a similar size, such as the California Center for the Arts in Escondido (1,500 people), and Humphrey's on Shelter Island (1,450), one vision is for ECPAC to have concerts with a pop-rock orientation that would attract people in their 20s and 30s.
Along the same demographic lines, Lutz said sales of beer and wine would be necessary to compete with similar venues. A full bar, which would cost $60,000 in licensing fees, might be exorbitant, but he said a license to sell beer (from the El Cajon Brewing Company, he used for an example) and wine (such as La Mesa's San Pasqual Winery, he noted) would be far more affordable at $8,000.
Lutz balked at the city's call for $4.3 million in renovations before the theater could reopen. He said $400,000 would be more than enough to fix ECPAC's leaky roof, put in drinking fountains, upgrade concessions and make other random repairs.
The city maintains much more money is needed for the building to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as other specific needs Lutz did not discuss.
The Save ECPAC group had at least one representative at last week's El Cajon Centennial meeting, hoping to convince the city to reopen ECPAC for the Nov. 12 centennial bash planned for the downtown area. No promises were made, but the group will have a booth at the event showcasing El Cajon's 100th birthday.
There was also discussion Monday night about speaking out at other city council meetings in East County to drum up support. A sign-up sheet was used to start the formation of committees and subcommittees for the ECPAC Foundation. Marketing personnel, fundraisers, outreach coordinators, and rental and operations advisors were some of the types of committees being planned.
Others at Monday's workshop included Kathy Spacone and Duane Swainston, both of whom have pulled papers for the 2012 City Council elections in November. None of the five current City Council members were present, but Lutz said he would attend Tuesday's council meeting to share information with them and El Cajon residents.
The group continues to gather support and redefine its plan, looking to gain support from the city. Lutz noted the upcoming Nov. 6 elections, which will determine a state tax plan and three seats on the City Council, and said he remained hopeful for the future of ECPAC.
"There's no reason this can't be open," he said. "No reason."
Mary Wells, an El Cajon resident for 15 years, has gone to similar meetings about ECPAC's future. Her frustration and exasperation was evident after Monday's workshop. Wells said that until the city agrees to get on board, most of the points Lutz makes are moot.
"I do want to move forward," she said. "But we can't until we have the support and the money, from the community and the city."
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