REAL-LIFE DRAMA MADRID THEATRE SAVED IN FINAL ACT.
CANOGA PARK -- In the eyes of the Valley Cultural Center, City Councilman Dennis Zine went from villain to hero -- in eight hours.
Despite booming attendance, the Valley Cultural Center had announced Wednesday that it would close the Madrid Theatre after the councilman refused to pay it an operating subsidy.
But at the 11th hour, Zine heeded a VCC request for $56,000 to balance last year's books -- ending a threat to a three-year public-private partnership that helped turn a seedy Canoga Park business district into an ``All-America City.''
``I'm overwhelmed, the organization is absolutely overwhelmed,'' said a giddy James Kinsey, president and chief executive officer for the Woodland Hills-based agency that hosts Concerts in the Park. ``Zine is an OK guy.''
The money will come from the councilman's civic fund and from state community redevelopment funds, a Zine staff member said.
The VCC will likely run the Madrid through June, when the city will open bids for new managers. The City Council is set to vote on an extended management agreement Friday.
Throughout the day, however, VCC officials were numb with worry that the Madrid would shut its doors to The Drifters rock 'n' roll show and other pending events.
``The bottom line is when the board meets Friday, we will be shutting down the theater,'' said Michael Turner, chairman of the VCC board. ``There's no other alternative at this point, unless some benefactor comes forward.''
The standoff between Zine and the VCC ended this week after 10 months of negotiations between the city and the VCC.
VCC officials had said the fate of the Madrid lies in the hands of Zine, who had denied paying the subsidy needed to light its marquee.
Zine said the fate of the 433-seat theater lies in good fiscal management and that he had been led to believe the VCC needed the money for future operations, not to wipe away red ink from last year.
The disagreement stemmed from an accounting dispute between fiscal and calender years of operation, Zine said.
``We worked it out; it's resolved,'' he said, adding that there was never any danger of shutting down the theater. ``It's going to be subsidized for the next fiscal year.''
Zine, who had called the VCC ``fiscally irresponsible,'' had promised to have the city's Cultural Affairs Department resume theater operations if the VCC pulled out.
In a letter to VCC officials this week, he reminded the agency of its promise to be self-sufficient after three years and recommended that it look elsewhere for funds, saying it would be ``unfortunate for the Madrid to shut its doors.''
He had also threatened to have Controller Laura Chick perform an audit of VCC spending of city money. It was Chick, a former councilwoman, who had fought to transform the former Pussycat Theater into a sleek performing-arts venue.
Chick said she was unaware of any such VCC audit request.
``They're in debt $56,000; I want to know how they incurred that debt,'' Zine had said. ``If there's a deficit we don't know about, we need to examine that issue.''
On Dec. 3, 1998, mom-and-pop-shop owners had danced in the street when the former X-rated-movie house was rededicated as a community playhouse.
Backers swore the $3.5 million city theater would revive a business district battered by crime, recession and the 1994 Northridge Earthquake.
An expected 135-175 performances would draw 50,000 visitors a year and spark a renaissance of Antique Row. Only the entertainment anchor for Canoga Park revitalization at 21622 Sherman Way failed to deliver the promised programs.
As the Cultural Affairs Department spent upward of $400,000 to run the Madrid -- with no budget to promote shows -- foot traffic lagged, night life died.
In its last year run by the city, the Madrid boasted 52 performances and 15,000 attendees.
But when Zine proposed privatizing the theater, Cultural Arts officials said no agency could make money on a 500-seat venue.
The VCC, which hoped to use the Madrid as a showcase for a proposed $100 million performing-arts center, said it could.
With the city initially paying for lights, security, janitorial services and two staff members, the VCC took the reins of the Madrid in summer 2003.
At the end of its first year, such controversial shows as ``Orgasms: The Play'' tripled performances to 168 and drew 30,000 visitors to the Madrid.
But as $126,000 in city subsidies dwindled, VCC officials said they began to lose money.
Despite some commercial headliners, they said the Madrid has been too limited a venue for expensive shows and that they can't turn a profit from the mostly nonprofit productions that rent the theater at rock-bottom rates.
``We're losing $50,000 to $75,000 a year,'' Kinsey said. ``We just don't want the theater to go dark. ... Whoever takes it over will either need deep pockets, or a limited type subsidy.''
Business owners and community redevelopment officials said the Madrid has been the anchor for a $20 million community makeover.
Today, the strip of Sherman between Remmet and Owensmouth avenues sports fresh awnings, new storefronts and lush palms.
And thanks to the Madrid, business owners say, there are no more drug dealers, hookers and homeless.
``Without the Madrid, you may just as well roll up the sidewalk,'' added Mike Puetz, owner of Henri's Restaurant and Barroom across the street. ``It's the linchpin for the community.''
MADRID THEATRE HISTORY
1926: Madrid Theatre opens on Sherman Way, the heart of the agricultural community of Owensmouth. It features stage productions, but later is converted to a movie theater that shows silent films and, eventually, ``talkies.''
1930: Owensmouth becomes Canoga Park.
1975: Valley Cultural Center is founded.
1994: The Madrid is operating as the Pussycat Theater, showing X-rated movies, when it is severely damaged in the Northridge Earthquake on Jan. 17. Two months later, plans emerge to rebuild the theater as a performing- arts center.
1995: City wins a $3.5 million federal grant to build a 499-seat performing-arts center on the Madrid site. The San Fernando Valley Symphony and West San Fernando Valley Symphony orchestras express interest in staging performances there.
1998: City opens Madrid Theatre as a performing-arts center, with then-City Councilwoman Laura Chick among the officials attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
2002: The city Cultural Arts Department spends $300,000 a year to operate the Madrid, but local businesses complain it fails to draw expected foot traffic. It produces 52 performances that draw a total of nearly 15,000 people. City Councilman Dennis Zine seeks private management, and the Valley Cultural Center, Golden Performing Arts Center and the Valley Performing Arts Center submit bids.
2003: The Valley Cultural Center takes over management of the theater, with subsidies from the city. The first show, ``Cabaret,'' packs the house for 12 weeks. During 2003-04, the VCC produces 168 performances that draw nearly 29,500 attendees.
2004: The VCC says the Madrid is $30,000 in the black, thanks to community donations. The 202 performances in 2004-05 draw 35,700 people. Neighboring restaurants and shops credit the theater for an increase in business.
2004: The Walk of Hearts, honoring San Fernando Valley educators, is unveiled in September. Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden is among the first 10 teachers honored with a bronze plaque set in the sidewalk in front of the Madrid.
2005: The VCC produces 141 shows in 2005-06, drawing 30,000 attendees. Canoga Park is named an All-America City by the National Civic League, recognizing its efforts to improve the quality of life. The Madrid is credited with rejuvenating the Sherman Way area.
2006: Zine comes up with $56,000 to subsidize the Madrid after VCC officials threaten to close the theater.
3 photos, box
(1 -- 3 -- color) The marquee at the Madrid Theatre on Sherman Way in Canoga Park will stay lit thanks to an eleventh-hour, $56,000 subsidy payment made Wednesday by City Councilman Dennnis Zine. Above right, Dorothy is shown in a scene from a Nov. 3 production of ``The Wizard of Oz,'' while actors perform in ``Orgasms: The Play'' at the theater in July 2004.
MADRID THEATRE HISTORY (see text)
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Aug 17, 2006|
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