MARTINEZ -- After more than a year, the curtain could rise again at the Campbell Theatre this holiday season if the city reaches a management agreement with Onstage Repertory Theater.
In addition to plays, Onstage envisions booking a variety of events at the Campbell such as concerts, poetry slams, film festivals, stand-up comedy and talent shows, according to board member Mark Hinds.
"What Onstage wants is to create a situation where on any given week -- Friday night, Saturday night -- the people of Martinez can say 'Let's go down to Main Street and go over to the Campbell Theatre and see what's going on,'" Hinds said.
Onstage, a 35-year-old company, lost its home in 2008 when inspectors discovered dangerous structural flaws in the Old School House in Pleasant Hill. Since then, the company has staged shows at small theaters in central Contra Costa County.
Under the terms of a 2009 lease agreement, Martinez must pay the rent for the Campbell through December 2014. The rent for this downtown space is set to increase from $4,500 per month to $4,637 beginning Jan. 1.
Martinez has spent a lot of money to keep the arts alive downtown; in addition to paying rent and an average of $600 per month for utilities at the Campbell, earlier this month city leaders paid $20,000 for furniture and lighting, sound and concessions equipment that belonged to the defunct Willows Theatre Co.
Onstage has proposed paying for utilities and janitorial service at the theater, which will cut the city's costs. The company also is willing to negotiate a profit-sharing agreement with Martinez, Hinds said, but Onstage can't afford to take on the entire rent.
Hinds also said Onstage would like to reconfigure the space by expanding the stage area, installing 118 movie theater-style seats it owns and, perhaps, adding a balcony. But Onstage board members are leery of pouring a lot of cash into the theater, given the uncertainty about the city's plans for the venue.
"The concern is that unless the city is going to remain a partner, for lack of a better term, in whatever theater arts program is being conducted on that spot, we don't want to invest our time and our money into a situation that might leave us hanging with the landlord and $4,500 in rent," Hinds said.
Although there's no consensus among City Council members about future financial support, they agreed to negotiate with Onstage with the goal of reviving the theater at least until the lease expires.
"There's no negative to entering into this contract," Mayor Rob Schroder said. "We're paying rent and it's sitting dark."
Council Members Lara DeLaney and Anamarie Avila Farias expressed doubts about renewing the lease on the Campbell.
"I'm not sure really what the economic benefit to the city of having this small theater highly subsidized by the taxpayers, quite frankly, is to Martinez," DeLaney said. "Why should we be in the business of subsidizing these theater groups or paying for leases for companies that may or may not succeed in the long run?"
However, Councilman Mark Ross has argued consistently that the theater is a boon to downtown eateries.
"If you ask the restaurants down there how many covers a night they get from performances at the Campbell I think you'll find a surprising answer depending on which restaurants you talk to," Ross said. "In some of these establishments, 10 dinners a night makes a big difference -- that makes their whole night."
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.