LIVERMORE -- With sizable bills due this month on a $22.5 million debt for the Bankhead Theater, the Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center is putting its regional theater plans on the back burner.
The center has been reeling since a Sacramento judge ruled against it in October in a dispute with the state's Finance Department. The verdict denied about $120 million in funds secured through agreements with the defunct Livermore redevelopment agency for a future 2,000-seat regional theater. It was intended to work in tandem with the smaller, 500-seat Bankhead, which opened in 2007. The state dissolved redevelopment agencies in 2012 and refused to acknowledge the funding as an enforceable obligation.
With a donor's $1,000 gift for the cause, on Feb. 7 the center filed a notice to appeal the court's decision.
According to LVPAC's consulting theater manager David Hyslop, that's as far as the pursuit is going.
"We're only working on the Bankhead," Hyslop said. "There are only so many resources, and right now they're going toward fixing the Bankhead and booking for next season."
According to LVPAC's financial director, Reanna Goucher, the center owes a principal payment of $100,000 to the Bank of New York Mellon by Tuesday and a $140,000 payment by March 31.
Regarding LVPAC's ability to make the payments, Hyslop said the nonprofit is "working with the appropriate people," adding, "Stay tuned."
Attempts to reach LVPAC Chairman Phil Wente were unsuccessful.
Representatives from the Bankhead's nine resident companies, perhaps those most directly impacted by the financial uncertainty, have met with Hyslop and the center's board.
Jim Schmidt, president of the Livermore Valley Opera, said that among the companies there's little support for a regional theater. Some fear the competition; others think the theater would be too large and wouldn't bring in the audiences necessary to make it viable. Schmidt called the prospects for a successful legal appeal "a long shot," saying the companies are in the process of forming their own group to support the Bankhead.
"We're certainly open to any partnership, but the debt is so high," Schmidt said. "It would appear LVPAC is hoping the state will change their mind, ... but things have changed."
Alan Frank, president of the Livermore-Amador Symphony, said the companies agree spending any significant money for a legal challenge would be "chasing good money after bad" and are on board with throwing their weight behind saving the Bankhead.
"The symphony can see no specific advantage to the regional theater," Frank said. "We don't feel we can use it. It's too big, and it's too expensive."
Charles Hartwig, Rae Dorough Speaker Series chair and board member for two other resident companies -- Del Valle Fine Arts and the Pacific Chamber Symphony -- said he doesn't support a regional theater either, because of the costs involved. He said the companies plan to work cooperatively with Hyslop and LVPAC board members, optimistic the issues can be resolved.
"We speak with the same voice," Hartwig said. "All the resident companies think this is the time to secure this wonderful Bankhead Theater."
Valley Dance Theatre Executive Director Karin Bunnell echoed Hartwig's comments. Her company, which is booked through this year, is moving ahead as if 2014 will be business as usual.
"We are in full support of focusing right now on making the Bankhead sustainable," Bunnell said. "I'm cautiously optimistic. I think (LVPAC) is doing the right thing."
Hyslop said he's gotten similar feedback from the companies in his meetings with them, and feels all parties want the same result.
"Everybody's got to have skin in the game," Hyslop said. "It's a huge challenge, it's a huge task, but nobody has said 'we want the Bankhead to go.'"
Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.