MARTINEZ -- Hoping to sign an experienced promoter to manage the Campbell Theatre, city leaders paid $20,000 for property abandoned by the defunct Willows Theatre Company.

After nearly a year of negotiating, Martinez now owns tables and chairs, as well as lighting, sound and concession equipment -- including a popcorn maker and a hot dog warmer.

But that promoter hasn't been found, and the theater -- closed since the Willows folded a year ago -- remains dark.

Under the terms of a 2009 lease agreement, Martinez must pay the rent for the Campbell, currently about $4,500 per month, through December 2014.

As for the $20,000, "I think it's a good investment because I want to utilize that space for at least the next 15 months," Mayor Rob Schroder said.

"Hopefully, we will be able to have some performances there, and then we'll be able to gauge whether this can be a successful venue again," he added.

The city has been looking for a qualified promoter to manage and staff the theater and book a variety of events.

Initially, the city planned to let the promoter keep all proceeds from ticket sales and concessions. In lieu of rent, the promoter would pay Martinez a flat fee per event booking, except for dates reserved for the Martinez school district, nonprofit community groups and the city.

But Martinez received only two promoters' proposals by the Aug. 19 deadline, neither of which met the city's criteria, according to Schroder. Many of the groups that earlier had expressed interest in the Campbell said the city's requirements were too stringent, he said.


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Now, the city is offering more flexible terms, including the possibility of setting payments based on the promoter's profit.

"We had envisioned the flat (fee) model as a simple way to chip away at our overhead," said Michael Chandler, senior management analyst for the city. "But then we felt based on the limited response that we got, that may have been a barrier to some people."

Proposals are due Monday, and the council is scheduled to approve the sublease with the chosen promoter at the Oct. 16 meeting.

In April 2014, six months before the lease expires, the city, theater manager and the property owner will begin negotiating future use of the Campbell.

If the chosen promoter is successful, Schroder would consider continuing the rent subsidy, although he would like to reduce or eliminate it. However, he won't approve another lease leaving Martinez on the hook for rent, even if the promoter leaves town and the theater closes again.

"I don't want to be in a situation again where we have an empty venue without any use, and the city is shelling out money," Schroder said. "I would not be willing to enter into the same type of lease agreement without some stronger guarantees for the city."

Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.