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Downey Buys a Big Opera Ticket--a $1,200 Loan

April 12, 1987|RICHARD HOLGUIN | Times Staff Writer

DOWNEY — When the financially troubled Downey Civic Light Opera Assn. approached the city for what in essence was a $1,200 donation, the City Council responded like a father to a favorite son.

The council did not make the donation, but it approved a $1,200 loan despite the fact that the nonprofit citizens organization has not followed the terms of a previous $10,000 loan agreement with the city.

"We're all part of the same community here," said Councilwoman Diane P. Boggs, who said the Civic Light Opera has been a long-standing member of the cultural community. "It's like loaning to your kids."

But the sympathetic council was divided over how to treat the association's request.

Mayor James S. Santangelo, who with Boggs wanted to give the money outright to the group, said $1,200 is "a small price to pay for all . . . that culture."

Strict Proposal Overruled

On the other extreme was Councilman Randall R. Barb, who wanted to make the loan conditional upon compliance with the 1985 loan agreement, which required the Civic Light Opera to submit financial statements to the city after each production. Barb, who had voted with the 3-to-2 majority to approve the loan, was overruled.

"I'm concerned that we just don't have money to throw away," Barb said.

The Civic Light Opera, which produces three to four musicals a year, has run into hard times recently as it continues to stage more than 30 performances a year in the 748-seat Downey Theatre.

The association still owes the city $9,500 for rental of the municipal theater and labor in connection with the last two musicals it staged in February and March--"Evita" and "The Fantasticks."

To help make up the shortfall, the Civic Light Opera plans to stage a one-night benefit performance April 25, in which all the performers are donating their time. The association had asked the city to waive the $1,200 in rent and labor charges for the night.

"Our cash flow has been a little shaky since 'Brigadoon' (which was performed in October), and so we are hoping this benefit will enable us to pay the rent that is due from 'Evita' and 'The Fantasticks'," Margene Glenn, president of the association, wrote in a letter to the Recreation and Community Services Commission, which considered the request before recommending the loan to the City Council.

Glenn did not return telephone calls from The Times to address questions about the financial condition of the Civic Light Opera.

The Civic Light Opera began producing musicals independently in 1978. Before that, it was a support group to the city, which produced the plays itself, said James R. Jarrett, director of community services.

The city stages various productions at Downey Theatre, including concerts and a travel film series. The Civic Light Opera runs the theater box office for the city, but Downey plans to take over that task soon.

While the city's productions more than pay for themselves with subscription and ticket sales, the city spent $146,756 last fiscal year running the building, according to city officials and financial records.

Two Shows Were Not Hits

This is not the first time the Civic Light Opera has approached the city for funds. In 1985, Glenn asked the City Council for a $15,202 grant to offset the theater rental for performances of "Annie Get Your Gun," which along with "Camelot" had not been a hit at the box office. The group also requested an interest-free loan of $10,000 repayable in three years to offset general operating expenses.

The City Council approved the grant, and as a condition of the loan, the Civic Light Opera was required to submit a profit-loss statement no more than two weeks after the close of each production.

"They were $25,000 in the red because they didn't know their true financial condition," said Kevin C. O'Connor, director of the Downey Theatre.

Before, the association submitted profit-loss statements to the city on an annual basis, O'Connor said. But with taxpayer money involved, the city wanted to more closely track the organization's financial health.

Cutbacks Passed Along

If a show does poorly at the box office, a producer must cutback in later productions to finish the year without a deficit, O'Connor explained.

"You don't want to hamstring a group. Then on the other hand, you're handing out city money," O'Connor said. "If you don't have the management tools to make the decision, the likelihood of making the correct decision is diminished."

While the city received profit-loss statements for the 1985-86 season, it has received none for this season's three shows, Jarrett said. The first of the statements was due more than five months ago.

Civic Light Opera spokeswoman Marsha Moode last week assured the City Council that the statements would be forthcoming, but could not say when.

Repaid Immediately

The only other time the Civic Light Opera approached the city for financial support was in 1978, when Downey guaranteed an $8,000 loan, which was immediately repaid, Jarrett said. In all, the Civic Light Opera owes Downey $11,200--the $10,000 borrowed in 1985 and the recent $1,200 loan--that must be paid by May, 1988, and the $9,500 for theater rental and labor for the most recent shows, which must be paid by Friday Jarrett said.

Jarrett said the statements sought by the city are meant to ensure that the Civic Light Opera is able to produce musicals for Downey residents for years to come. But he said if the group were to become insolvent, either the city or another organization probably would step in as producer.

"Our preference would be that they operate on a sound financial basis . . . without the need for subsidy," Jarrett said.

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