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THEATER

Latino company gets LATC lease

The 20-year agreement is contingent on a state grant.

December 22, 2005|Don Shirley | Times Staff Writer

THE Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to award the Latino Theater Company a 20-year lease to manage the Los Angeles Theatre Center, the municipally owned complex on Spring Street in downtown L.A.

The decision was made as part of a series of measures approved by consent and without debate. However, the issue had been discussed Tuesday at a meeting of the council's Budget and Finance Committee, which voted 4 to 1 to approve a city report recommending the lease. Councilman Greig Smith, the lone dissenter on the committee, said there had not been sufficient time to analyze the report

If the Latino company secures an anticipated $4-million state grant in January, the theater complex would close for at least four months. During that time, gallery facilities would be added to accommodate the currently homeless Latino Museum of History, Art and Culture, which would then cosign the city lease and become the theater company's partner in the venture.

If the state money is not secured, the lease agreement could be terminated.

With financing from city redevelopment funds, LATC was converted from a former bank building in the mid-1980s and operated by a resident nonprofit company from 1985 to 1991. The Latino company grew from a branch of that original company.

The city Cultural Affairs Department has managed LATC for most of the period since 1991, but in 2003 the city requested the department to solicit programming proposals from private managers. A proposal from prominent downtown developer Tom Gilmore and the theater troupe Will & Company placed first and the Latino company placed second in the initial round, but the results were never approved by the City Council.

Upon hearing of the Latino company's prospective state grant, the council started from scratch earlier this year, adding maintenance to the responsibilities of the would-be managers.

The Latino Theater Company is pledging to provide programming in each of LATC's four theaters for at least 150 days a year. Four annual subscription series -- including one in collaboration with the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television -- would be offered, along with an array of educational programs.

The Latino company itself expects to produce only one play, at least in the first year. Among other groups that have signed letters of commitment to produce at LATC under the Latino Theater management are Culture Clash, Cedar Grove Productions, Robey Theater Company, Playwrights' Arena and East L.A. Classic Theatre.

Latino Theater forecasts revenue of more than $2 million, including more than $1.5 million in ticket sales, and expenses of nearly $1.5 million in the first year. The expenses include $650,000 for administrative staff, $430,000 for actor salaries and $300,000 for other production costs.

The museum anticipates first-year revenue of $645,000 -- mostly from investment income and foundation grants -- and first-year expenses of $545,000.

More than $612,000 is allotted for facility operating expenses, including $355,000 to real estate management firm Jones Lang LaSalle. The estimated net income for the entire complex in that first year would be only $22,000.

Under the plan approved Wednesday, the city would require the Latino Theater to deposit $750,000 in a building maintenance account and keep the funds at that level on a quarterly basis. Additionally, $1 of each admission fee and 2% to 10% of other revenue would be deposited in a city fund for improvements to the building.

Reacting to the defeat of his proposal, Gilmore contended Wednesday that council members who were uncertain about the issue had asked themselves, "Which side of the steamroller do you want to be on?" He predicted that the Latino Theater venture would fail financially but said that "by the time that happens, all the people who made it a failure will be gone from the council. I'll still be in my neighborhood, suffering the consequences."

Latino Theater artistic director Jose Luis Valenzuela was jubilant.

"The city will again have a multicultural center for theater where diversity is the rule, not the exception," he said.

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