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Ventura Theater Renovation Halted After Investor Pulls Out

Restoration: Operator says the backer withdrew for personal reasons and that new financing has been found. Work is reported 90% complete.

May 23, 1997|HILARY E. MacGREGOR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VENTURA — The million-dollar restoration of the Ventura Theater has ground to a halt after a principal financial backer pulled out.

But the new operators of the historic theater say that they have found another investor, that renovation is 90% complete and that shows will begin next month on schedule.

"He backed out for personal reasons, not because he was spooked about what was going on here," Glenis Gross, one of the two new theater operators, said Thursday.

"We've regrouped. We do have new investors. The new deal is being structured as we speak," she said.

Gross would only identify the former investor as a personal friend. Nor would she say who her new backers are.

Gross and her partner, Dan Catullo III, are the theater operators and also large investors in the restoration, which began in late April. They have renamed the 69-year-old theater the New Ventura Theatre.

Gross emphasized that remaining restoration will be carried out as planned. "We don't want anyone to be spooked," she said. "Every day we move forward more. We are sound."

Peter Wassyng, promotions director, said scheduling will remain unchanged. "Everything is going to be fine. The events will be up and running," he said.

Gross and Catullo, partners in Backstreet Entertainment, took over the theater's lease in late April.

Since then, they say, they have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into restoring the ornate theater to its former glory. They have said they intend to exercise their option to purchase the classic 1,150-seat concert venue.

To great fanfare, the theater threw open its doors for the Ventura Chamber Music Festival on May 10. The new paint glistened and the mica chandelier glowed. Only the carpeting and seating were not finished. Wassyng said the lack of funds was a factor.

Gross said there was just not time to get it all done.

"We told the contractors we lost an investor for personal reasons," Gross said. "They have a vested interest in this, too."

She added that contractors and employees have been wonderful, and that payments "will be kicking in again."

Initially, the new operators did not have any investors. But as restoration proceeded and they found themselves short of funds, they sought a backer who could put up additional cash.

"As we were renovating, we realized we wanted to do this right," Gross said. "It always takes more time and money than you thought."

According to Gross, they received word from their investor only days before the theater's grand reopening that he had to pull out.

"It was like, boom!" Gross said.

They said they scrambled to make good on their promise to the city and did their best to make the May 10 concert a success, filling the still carpet-less lobby with plants.

Since then, work appears to have slowed--as they hunted for a new investor.

In the meantime, Gross and Catullo continue to negotiate with owner Angelo Elardo to purchase the theater.

"We made an offer," Gross said. ". . . We will buy the theater."

With plaster moldings reworked, light bulbs changed and a new sound system in, Gross said renovations are nearly complete. She said the remainder can be turned around in about 10 days, now that a new investor is signed on.

"It is going to be a wonderful, wonderful year," she said. "We are solid."

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