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Route From the Doolittle to the Ricardo Montalban Is Changing

May 07, 2000|DON SHIRLEY | Don Shirley is the Times' theater writer

Details have changed on the big plan to convert Hollywood's Doolittle Theater into the Ricardo Montalban Theatre. But the ultimate goal remains the same.

As first outlined last year, the city was going to buy the Doolittle from UCLA and then convey it to Regent Properties as part of a major redevelopment project. Regent would, in turn, contract with the Ricardo Montalban Nosotros Foundation to operate and renovate the theater as a Latino-oriented performance center.

Now, however, Regent has been removed from the process. Its redevelopment project has shrunk. The Doolittle is no longer part of it.

This means that if Montalban Nosotros is to take over the Doolittle, it's going to have to come up with the $2.1-million purchase price. Not that UCLA can sell the theater directly to Montalban Nosotros--in order to sell a building without competitive bidding, a government agency (UCLA) can sell only to another government agency (the city). However, after buying the building with Montalban Nosotros money, the city can then turn it over to the foundation.

So the pressure is on the foundation. It must officially convince the city's Community Redevelopment Agency, and then the City Council, that its business plan is solid enough to support the Doolittle without the involvement of Regent. And if that can be accomplished, the foundation must then make a down payment of $400,000 within the next two or three months--or, of course, come up with the total purchase price within the same time frame.

On the bright side, the foundation's interim executive director, Al Pina, noted that the new arrangement frees the foundation from its obligations to Regent to renovate the theater within a given time frame. While Pina hopes such renovations will eventually be made, money that was to have been raised for that purpose can now be used for the purchase.

Furthermore, fund-raising should be easier "now that it's in our court, now that we are the developer," Pina said.

He emphasized that one of the foundation's proposed uses for the facility and an adjacent building is education, as part of a planned arts academy--and "there are plenty of education dollars out there." He also expressed the hope that the city itself might chip in as much as $400,000 from the percentage of developers' fees required to go to arts projects, as well as in grants from the city's Cultural Affairs Department.

If Montalban Nosotros should fail to make its case, there probably wouldn't be time for the city to find another operator. Because the process has been delayed beyond initial projections, the city is already making monthly $15,000 payments toward the deposit in order to hold the building off the market. UCLA probably wouldn't permit this to continue indefinitely, although the university has reportedly offered to finance the balance of the purchase at a market rate for two years.

Redevelopment agency project manager Jeff Skorneck said that "a wellspring of goodwill" exists within the city government toward the Montalban Nosotros project and that he fully expects the project to move forward.

FYNSWORTHALLEY.COM: For six years, L.A. was the home of the Spotlight Series, a line of recordings primarily devoted to theater music. It was part of the larger Varese Sarabande label. Under the guidance of producer Bruce Kimmel, Spotlight turned out 106 albums.

But Varese Sarabande discontinued the Spotlight Series at the end of the year. So Kimmel is starting his own shop, Fynsworth Alley, which will serve up similar fare.

Based in Studio City, like Varese Sarabande, Fynsworth Alley ("It doesn't mean anything, but I wanted a name more obscure than Varese Sarabande," said Kimmel) will start recording next month and release something by September, Kimmel hopes. For the first three months of every release, the recordings will be sold only over the Internet, and those copies will include an extra track. Kimmel realizes the market for this music is limited, but "if we can educate our niche buyers to use the Web site, we can make money." He said that the Spotlight Series operated in the black during much of its life.

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