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Repairs could close arts center for 2 years

Union Tribune (2009-09-24) Anne Krueger

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Media Link: http://www3.signonsandiego.com/stories/2009/sep/24/repairs-could-close-arts-center-2-years/?eastcounty&zIndex=171257
More Info: El Cajon City Council, Save ECPAC

By Anne Krueger

Union-Tribune Staff Writer

2:00 a.m. September 24, 2009

The El Cajon City Council wants to make improvements to the 1,142-seat East County Performing Arts Center with a goal to improve its fortunes. (Union-Tribune file) -

The theater was built by El Cajon and the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District in 1976. (Union-Tribune file)

The theater was built by El Cajon and the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District in 1976. (Union-Tribune file)

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The Senior Follies at the East County Performing Arts Center in June. The theater had nearly $600,000 in revenue last year, but more than $741,000 in expenses. (Peggy Peattie / Union-Tribune)

The Senior Follies at the East County Performing Arts Center in June. The theater had nearly $600,000 in revenue last year, but more than $741,000 in expenses. (Peggy Peattie / Union-Tribune)

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Background: The 33-year-old East County Performing Arts Center has long been plagued with financial problems and with difficulties drawing audiences to its events in El Cajon.

What's changing: El Cajon Mayor Mark Lewis says the center will be closing for renovations once an agreement is approved with Art Beat Management, which has been running the center.

The future: The performing arts center could be closed up to two years for repairs, making the building more accessible to the handicapped, and adding a door onto Main Street in downtown El Cajon.

EL CAJON — El Cajon's East County Performing Arts Center is expected to be closed for up to two years for renovations while city officials struggle to make the downtown venue profitable.

Over the years, El Cajon officials have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into repairs and subsidies for the city-owned center. Despite the assistance, the center continues to lose money.

Officials have long searched for ways to make the 1,142-seat theater profitable. They say it's too large to consistently draw sell-out crowds, but too small to host conferences, seminars and other large gatherings. It has no meeting space.

El Cajon's contribution to the performing arts center is far lower than the amounts the cities of Escondido and Poway contribute to their centers.

Escondido contributes $1.3 million a year to the California Center for the Performing Arts, which has a conference center, art and education studios, and a museum. The city also pays several hundred thousand dollars a year for maintenance and utility costs, Escondido City Manager Clay Phillips said. The 16-year-old center had a $300,000 deficit this year.

The Poway Center for the Performing Arts cost the city $631,530 to operate last year, said Belinda Romero, Poway's community services manager. The center features professional and community productions and has a partnership with the Poway Unified School District.

El Cajon Mayor Mark Lewis said the city is finalizing an agreement that would end operation of the East County Performing Arts Center by Art Beat Management, a subsidiary of Christian Youth Theater, which has managed the facility for four years.

The Grossmont Community Concert Association, a nonprofit group that puts on shows at the theater, was notified by Art Beat in an e-mail Sept. 14 that El Cajon was closing the center Dec. 24 for renovations.

Lewis said the City Council met in closed session Tuesday to discuss an agreement ending Art Beat's management. He said no action could be taken because Paul Russell, Art Beat's executive director, wouldn't sign the agreement. The council will reconsider the action Oct. 13, Lewis said.

Russell did not return numerous calls over several weeks. El Cajon City Manager Kathi Henry and City Attorney Morgan Foley said they could not discuss a closed session item.

Ron Shelby, president of the concert association, told the council his group had six shows scheduled through May, and said closing the center would place his group in an “untenable and vulnerable position.” Shelby urged the council to keep the theater open until May.

Shelby's statement was made during the public comment section of the council meeting, and council members did not respond to his remarks.

Art Beat Management took over the center after a nonprofit agency that ran the facility went nearly $2 million in debt. In July, Art Beat officials warned the City Council that the theater might go dark if they didn't receive more money from El Cajon.

They asked for $173,000 from the city to pay for repairs and for three employees. The council didn't approve the request, but told Henry to meet with Art Beat officials to discuss finances.

The subsidy requested by Art Beat was in addition to $117,222 the city contributes toward the center's maintenance, insurance and utility costs. Art Beat received no subsidy from El Cajon last year as city officials struggled with a growing budget deficit.

The theater had nearly $600,000 in revenue last year, but more than $741,000 in expenses, according to its most recent audit.

The theater was built by the city and the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District in 1976. The college district took over management duties but was losing money. The district, which no longer uses the venue, turned over ownership to El Cajon in 1995.

When Christian Youth Theater was selected to run the center in 2005, questions were raised about whether the group had a broad enough vision to run the theater. Concerns also were raised about the selection process because no other groups applied.

In 2007, the city considered redeveloping the area to include a center with larger meeting areas, along with retail and a hotel.

Lewis said the center needs extensive repairs, including fixing a leaky roof and changes to make the building more accessible to the disabled. City officials also want to add a door to the center off El Cajon's Main Street so patrons leaving a performance might be more inclined to patronize downtown restaurants.

El Cajon is in the process of building a $65 million public safety center that has closed City Hall's main parking lot during construction. Lewis said it made sense to renovate the performing arts center during work on the public safety center.

“You couldn't ask for a better time to be doing it than now,” he said.


Anne Krueger: (619) 542-4575;

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Title Repairs could close arts center for 2 years
Publisher Union Tribune
Author Anne Krueger
Pub Date 2009-09-24
Media Link http://www3.signonsandiego.com/stories/2009/sep/24/repairs-could-close-arts-center-2-years/?eastcounty&zIndex=171257
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Keywords ECPAC, El Cajon City Council
Media Type Linked Article
Media Group News
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Topic revision: r1 - 2009-09-24, RaymondLutz

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