LIVERMORE -- It's no secret the Bankhead Theater, the jewel of the city's revamped downtown, faces an uphill climb with finances, but theater consultant David Hyslop believes the show will go on.
Facing eroding reserves and crippling debt, the Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center has hired Hyslop to help create a long-term revenue plan for the Bankhead. Hyslop -- whose nearly 50 years in arts management includes stints as CEO of the Minnesota Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony and Oregon Symphony -- has a history of turning around troubled orchestras in Dallas, Tulsa, Okla., Louisville, Ky., and elsewhere. While the Bankhead faces "immense challenges," in short, he's seen worse.
"I wouldn't have come out here if I didn't think it was doable," he said. "We're doing our performances. We're making our payrolls. ... We're looking ahead knowing that we've got to get everything in order."
Hyslop is cautiously optimistic the arts center can avoid defaulting on a $22.5 million debt for the theater, but others, including the center's founding executive director, financial director, and some resident theater groups, see it as more dire.
The center is coming off a trying year, seeking its third executive director in six months -- founding Executive Director Len Alexander, who had been with LVPAC since 2005, retired in August. His replacement, Ted Giatas, resigned after two months on the job.
Last spring, the center took out a $475,000 loan from the city, buying the Bankhead and Bothwell Arts Center a little time. But the bitterest pill came in October, when a Sacramento judge ruled against LVPAC in a lawsuit seeking more than $122 million in redevelopment funds, pulling the rug out from under a planned 2,000-seat regional theater intended to work in tandem with the Bankhead. LVPAC put more than $9 million into the plan, money may never be recovered.
"That's a huge blow," Hyslop said. "What I'm trying to assess right now is what are the options."
According to financial statements released Friday, LVPAC suffered a net loss of $442,000 in 2013, including $415,000 on the Bankhead -- nearly double what the nonprofit lost in 2012. It's an increase LVPAC blames on low sales, higher costs and debt interest.
Speaking for the board, LVPAC Chairman Phil Wente called the figures "relatively consistent" with past statements, adding shows are now being booked into 2015.
"We have no intention of closing the theater anytime soon," Wente said. "Every year, LVPAC is challenged with fundraising; this year will be no different."
LVPAC President Joan Seppala refused to comment.
Saddened by the struggles, former LVPAC Executive Director Alexander says it's time to give up plans for a regional theater and focus on the Bankhead, which opened in 2007. He suggests defaulting on the Bankhead's bonds in order to settle with the bank.
"The sooner everyone involved recognizes the tremendous downside to having LVPAC go out of business, perhaps there will be more clarity in reality and what it's going to take to save it," he said. "If the debt burden can be lifted or severely reduced, the (existing Bankhead) theater could live happily ever after. ... It would be a real shame for it to go dark."
LVPAC's reserves have dwindled from $2.1 million in 2010, to $496,000 as of Dec. 31. According to the center's financial director, Reanna Goucher, a $71,000 debt service payment is due this month, followed by principal and debt service payments totaling $241,000 in March. When asked if LVPAC could make the payments, Goucher said, "I don't know."
"It's going to be touchy for this next year while we figure things out," she said. "We can't sit back and relax. ... If we don't continue to raise money, we're going to fall behind on our bills."
Uncertainty is worrisome for the Bankhead's nine resident companies.
Livermore-Amador Symphony President Alan Frank said their Bankhead shows each draw about 400-500 people.
"Right now we're certainly very concerned over the situation," Frank said. "Assuming the theater remains open, it will incur rising costs for us ... and may mean we'll have to go to higher ticket prices."
The LVPAC board isn't giving up plans for the larger, regional theater, voting to appeal the Sacramento Superior Court's decision. Wente said members hope they can prevail in a different jurisdiction.
The cost of building the regional theater has been estimated at $65 million to $70 million. The 500-seat Bankhead was built for about $20 million.
In recent months, Alameda County and the city have discussed buying the debt from the bank and acquiring the Bankhead. So far, no deal's been made.
Hyslop is meeting with the theater's companies and plans to reach out to the public -- donations make up about half of LVPAC revenue.
"It's a community asset, so the community has to respond," he said. "If you're concerned about the future of the Bankhead, the time is now to help the Bankhead."
Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.