21 Aug 2014
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Door Shuts on New Theater

With Redevelopment Agencies Dissolved, Funds No Longer Available

Door Shuts on New Theater Door Shuts on New Theater

Supporters of the in Livermore got some bad news as the year drew to a close last week.

There won’t be any available to pay for it.

On Thursday the state Supreme Court upheld the legislature’s vote to dissolve the agencies, and struck down a bill that provided a loophole for the agency to continue funding projects.

The redevelopment agencies use a portion of property tax money to partner with developers to revitalize blighted arenas. Apparently, downtown Livermore was designated as blighted. That kind of government money going into redevelopment makes sense when it comes to poor, especially urban, areas where developers would be reluctant to risk money. One large-scale success story is the San Diego Gaslamp Quarter.

When I was growing up in San Diego, that area was a danger zone best avoided even during the daylight hours. Now it’s a bustling area highly attractive to tourists and locals alike.

But funding a theater in the downtown Livermore when a nice, albeit smaller theater, already exists? That does not seem to fulfill the spirit of the redevelopment plan, although it complied with the law.

These plans for a plush new theater come at a time when school districts struggle to offer fewer and fewer services from adequately funded GATE programs to arts education. Many city employees have had limited or no raises and work furloughs digging into their pockets. And these, among other fiscal concerns, need to be addressed.

The sad fact is that redevelopment agencies may be a luxury tax payers can no longer afford. The money that would have gone into these agencies — about $1 billion — is being redirected to schools, public safety and city general funds.

The Livermore city council voted in May 2009 to build a larger regional theater downtown. The plan was to have redevelopment agency money paying about two-thirds of the estimated $184 million price tag.

Many Livermore residents were up in arms when the city council opted to use the to back bonds to pay for the theater.

In the past, I’ve been an agnostic when it comes to the new theater. There are pros and cons, with the biggest item in the no column being the cost of a new theater that won’t be able to pay its own way.

The fights to fill seats, and most tickets are priced out of reach of many residents. Theater has never been a cheap entertainment option, and bringing in big entertainment names equals putting up big bucks.

Some folks have questioned whether Livermore could draw top drawer entertainers. The truth is you can get almost any performer for a price — even Grammy winners often play private parties and corporate gigs — but that doesn’t mean getting cheeks in the seats. 

It was a risky proposal when the Livermore City Council voted to use our general fund to back the bonds needed to build the planned theater. Most investors wouldn’t go near the bonds until the Redevelopment Agencies issue was resolved.

It would appear it has been resolved.

There will be no more redevelopment money coming in. But now the city has to decide if there’s another path to be taken. A larger venue would be fantastic for our community, but now might not be the time to take on such an extravagance.

The idea of a nice downtown hotel makes sense.  Or even some specialty shops, or a bed and breakfast — the downtown railroad station would make a nifty foundation for one. But something needs to be done in that space.

Otherwise, the city has a pretty pricey parking lot in a prime location.

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