City leases Repertory East Playhouse, enters show biz


Hey, gang, let’s put on a show! Mickey Rooney proposed that in the movies. Now the city of Santa Clarita is getting into the act.

The City Council on Tuesday night approved a three-year leasing agreement to rent out the now-vacant Repertory East Playhouse on Main Street in downtown Newhall – basically putting the city into show biz as it looks to create space for a community arts center while also generating income on the project.

Creating a community arts center was one of the recommendations of the Santa Clarita Arts Master Plan, adopted in March of last year, though the revenue-generating aspect adopted Tuesday is an added element.

The city already uses the Rep East space, as a per diem renter, for the monthly “10 by 10” variety night events, and for the monthly “Note by Note” singer/songwriter nights, which are part of the Thursdays@Newhall series. The space is also used during the city’s annual Cowboy Festival.

But Tuesday’s action makes the city – at a monthly rent of $4,600 – the lone tenant of the theater, providing the opportunity to generate income from fees charged to producers of shows, concerts, and other artistic endeavors.

However, the Council’s action also raises caution flags about the city getting into a sometimes fickle business that can also be very labor intensive – concerns that Mayor Cameron Smyth, on Thursday, said he’s well aware of.

A report to the Council from Richard E. Gould, the city’s director of Recreation, Community Services, Arts and Open Space, says “Operating this venue as a multi-arts center will enable the potential for incremental revenue with the goal of fully offsetting operating expenses by the third year of operation.’’

Smyth is optimistic, but cautiously so.

“There needs to be further discussions to see how this would work long term,’’ Smyth said.

“If the city is going to begin managing and operating a theater facility, that’s something new. And before we decide to do the long term, we need some more discussion on that. I want to make sure that’s within our bandwidth to do that.”

Smyth said the three-year lease will provide a good test period, without tying the city down long term if the venture turns into a boondoggle. That’s why he supported the move, which passed the Council unanimously.

“It was important, as we continue to revitalize the downtown area, that that property remain, hopefully, an arts facility,’’ Smyth said.

“But my greater concern was that the property owner would lease it out to another client that would want to turn it into something that doesn’t fit into our idea of revitalizing the downtown. So, I saw the merits of stepping in, at least in the short term.’’

Former Councilman TimBen Boydston, executive director of the Canyon Theatre Guild, knows first-hand about the vagaries of the business in which the city now finds itself.

He said that, while he supports the idea, there are boobytraps the city needs to be aware of – one of them being, that running a theater could now become the full-time job of some city employee.

“I think it’s great the City of Santa Clarita understands the value of the arts,’’ Boydston said. “I’m not certain how many hours it will take to run that facility, but it will be a good number of hours. … I do know that running a facility like that is a time-consuming job.”

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