First published in the April 23 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
The City Council voted 4-1 this week to move forward on the long-term agreement with SAS Entertainment to manage the Alex Theatre, also introducing an ordinance codifying the 10-year deal and appropriating an added $755,000 to complete capital expenses at the site.
The management agreement formally takes effect once the ordinance gets through its requisite reading and action period. Until then, the council also extended the interim agreement, which was first executed as a six-month plan on Oct. 30. Councilman Dan Brotman cast the sole dissenting vote during the special meeting on Tuesday, which saw the council take on resolutions, ordinances and appropriations in separate rounds of votes.
Although the city will not pay a so-called management fee to SAS for its work, it has agreed to fund up to $4.5 million in capital improvements and outlays at the historic venue, in addition to $800,000 in “major improvements,” acquiring equipment owned by previous manager Glendale Arts and picking up an annual $125,000 tab for utilities. However, SAS will charge “facility fees” on event tickets — $2 for $25 or cheaper tickets, and $4 for more expensive ones — with which it expects to reimburse the city around $5 million throughout the decade.
“We certainly have an agenda of moving the Alex into a place where it hasn’t been in a long time,” said Miles Williams, the founder and president of SAS. “That does take time. One of the real cornerstones is upgrading our ticketing system and bringing us into sort of the mainstream of ticketing. That gives the theater and all of the shows much more visibility to all of the Los Angeles audience, plus press.”
Bradley Calvert, the city’s assistant director of community development, defended the maintenance and proposed capital expenses as being necessary to give the Alex and SAS the best chance to succeed. It’s likely the majority, if not all, of these projects would have been considered and recommended in any scenario.
“That’s some of the standard work that would need to be done to keep the theater in good shape,” Calvert said.
Amid some skepticism that SAS would be able to reimburse the city for most of these improvements, Williams said the theater would need to average around 2,000 tickets a week — not quite two sold-out shows — to make good on that, “which we think is very doable.” In addition to many of the usual acts that the Alex has hosted in recent years, Williams said he was confident SAS would also attract more marquee names and would be more involved in presenting its own show at the venue.
Calvert noted that in its interim management period, SAS has sold out a number of events, including a special Armenian film screening, a Spanish-language stand-up comedy show and both days of violinist Ara Malakian’s performances. Upcoming arrangements include performances by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and future filming for Disney productions, in addition to what Williams hopes will be half a dozen or so film festivals annually.
“Our full intention and agenda for the theater is just beginning to be realized,” he said.
The $755,000 appropriation to the current fiscal year is meant to cover around $405,000 in capital outlay projects, an addition of $135,000 to a variety of existing city maintenance contracts to cover adding the theater to the agreements, adding $65,000 to cover the remaining gap from the new utility bill arrangement and $150,000 for a possible conversion of the theater’s signature spire to L.E.D. lighting. (Corrie Siegel, executive director of the neighboring Museum of Neon Art, phoned in a public comment urging SAS to reconsider keeping and preserving the Art Deco tower’s neon lights; Williams replied he would happily meet and discuss that path with her.)
Brotman, who was largely critical of the city’s approach to management of the Alex and fought to retain the nonprofit Glendale Arts, contended that the proposed savings from going with SAS were not proportional to the risks of handing the keys over to a new for-profit business for 10 years. He said he was concerned about the city’s vulnerability on front-loading the capital expenses; in the event the facility fees do not generate the anticipated funds to offset the capital expenses and utilities, SAS has agreed to fill in that gap on its own only if the city renews with them for 10 more years.
“It’s no secret that this wasn’t a path that I originally wanted to go down, and I remain concerned,” Brotman said. “We are really, I think, taking a big bet that that’s coming in, and at the end of the day, it’s not clear to me that we’re realizing any savings here.
“I do hope it’s successful,” he added. “I want the Alex to thrive.”
Mayor Ardy Kassakhian, who largely aligned with Brotman when the rest of the council elected to exclusively negotiate with SAS, indicated he also had some reservations but was inclined to vote in favor of the agreements this week to move forward. He, too, drew attention to SAS’ goal of remitting up to $5 million back to the city.
“That’s a lot of sold-out shows, guys,” Kassakhian said. “I hope it’s realized, because obviously we like money. We want some money back in our city coffers. Hopefully that comes to fruition.”