LIVERMORE -- Concerned over the direction of the Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center and the threat of closure for the Bankhead Theater and Bothwell Arts Center -- both operated by the center -- community members have formed a new citizens group aimed at keeping the facilities open.
Comprising 15 board members, including some from the Bankhead's resident theater companies as well as local arts supporters, Friends of the Bankhead and Bothwell announced Monday they've incorporated as a nonprofit and are working out a plan to raise money in support of the theater and art space.
Kathy Streeter, board member for the Livermore Commission for the Arts, is chairing the group. A one-time proponent of LVPAC's plan for a 2,000-seat regional theater downtown, Streeter changed her tune after a court decision denied the project $122 million in redevelopment funds, further reinforced by a lack of downtown parking.
"I've come to the conclusion that because of the changes in the artistic opportunities, a 2,000-seat theater couldn't sustain itself," she said. "I think the Bankhead is being damaged by the focus on the regional theater. The idea needs to go away."
About $9 million has been spent so far on the regional theater plan. It would take an estimated $70 million to build the theater.
Streeter said Friends of the Bankhead and Bothwell will be accepting pledges through the Livermore Cultural Arts Council to bolster the Bankhead Theater's finances until it obtains nonprofit status.
Indebted $22.5 million to the Bank of New York Mellon on bonds for the 500-seat Bankhead Theater, LVPAC owes a $140,000 payment on the debt by the end of March.
Since the Sacramento court's decision in October on the redevelopment funds, the center has seen the departure of some key board members. Friends of the Bankhead member and past chairman of the Livermore Valley Chamber of Commerce, Jay Davis left LVPAC's board last fall, disagreeing with the group's "concentration on a regional theater." Confusion over the larger theater, he said, has hampered donations that could've been used to support the Bankhead, which opened in 2007.
"I can't ask my friends for money if I can't tell them where the money's going," Davis explained. "The sense one has is that the community has moved on, and there's not much support for the regional theater here. ... By keeping that appeal open, they cloud the issue."
The center filed a notice to appeal the court's ruling last month. However, LVPAC's consulting theater manager, David Hyslop, reiterated the board's commitment to the Bankhead, adding the nonprofit is engaged in meetings with the bank to work out an "agreeable solution."
"The sense of urgency is there," Hyslop said. "The conversations with the bank have been candid and constructive, but it would be much more agreeable to get sustainable funding for the Bankhead if the city and county were there with us."
LVPAC Chairman Phil Wente and board President Joan Seppala did not return calls for comment.
Not looking to compete with LVPAC's own fundraising, Friends of the Bankhead and Bothwell members said their immediate concern is keeping the Bankhead open, fearing even a temporary closure would not only jeopardize funds the theater gets from Altamont Landfill fees, but also would be highly damaging to the resident companies, theater staff and future performances.
Livermore-Amador Symphony President Alan Frank, secretary for the newly-formed group, called chances of an interruption in Bankhead operations "very high." The new organization, he said, is a cooperative effort to get the city, the county and the center all on the same page, before it's too late.
"We're trying to knock some sense in all parties involved," Frank said. "Failing that, we want to be prepared to pick up the pieces."
Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.