Granada Theatre Holds Off on Fund Request

Supporters of the Granada Theatre beat a strategic retreat this week, yanking their request for half-a-million dollars from the Santa Barbara City Council until January 31, rather than face a barrage of questions and suggestions from increasingly skeptical council members this past Tuesday.

Granada Theatre executives and board members sought the money—which would have brought City Hall’s direct contribution to the ambitious theatre renovation project to $5 million—in response to drastically escalating construction costs and because the Granada Foundation needed the cash as a matching grant to qualify for a $1.3 million grant from the Kresge Foundation. In years past, such a request would have been a slam-dunk for the politically connected Granada Foundation, which boasts former Mayor Harriet Miller on its board. But this request drew either tough questions or outright resistance from council members Grant House, Brian Barnwell, and Helene Schneider—despite having strong support from council members Iya Falcone and Roger Horton.

Part of this new resistance stemmed from the perception that the Foundation was, in effect, butting in line; that normally the city council would not begin to entertain such requests until Spring, after the annual budget process had begun. That way, the council could compare the Granada’s big ticket request with others being made. Some of the resistance stemmed from the feeling that City Hall had already given generously to the Granada restoration—$4.5 million—and that there were other worthy recipients of the limited funds available in the city’s Redevelopment Agency coffers. Projects that might give the Granada a run for City Hall’s money include the De la Guerra Plaza remodel, the transit village envisioned for MTD’s downtown transit center, and the Cabrillo Boulevard face-lift that would better link Stearns Wharf with the Harbor.

Beyond that, many council members regard the $25 million City Hall spent to build the new Granada garage as substantial donation to the theatre as well. In exchange for the money, councilmember Grant House is pushing for specific conditions that would have required the Granada to increase the sales price of its tickets by $1, the proceeds to be given to other area performing arts groups. Councilmember Brian Barnwell pushed for other conditions that would have required the Granada to set up an apprentice ship program to teach local high school-age kids the technical skills required to work the theater’s lights and soundboards. In addition, there was interest in imposing a condition requiring the Granada to set aside its facility for free or at half price to certain local production companies.

What happens January 31 remains to be seen. In the meantime, councilmember House is holding meetings with local arts groups to see their interest in the funds—estimated to be about $100,000 a year—that $1 ticket surcharge would generate. The Granada has already devised several scholarship programs targeting Santa Barbara students, and supporters, like Roger Horton, cite the economic boost performing arts centers like the Granada can generate. Even at $5 million, Horton said City Hall’s contribution pales in comparison to what other cities sink invest in their performing art centers. The latest estimate for construction and rehabilitation cost is $52 million. When the project first got underway, the figure was closer to $23 million. The increase is attributable to sharp rise in construction materials. And typically, old buildings like the Granada always hold expensive surprises for contractors seeking to spruce them up.

The Foundation has committed to raising $39 million privately, but is reportedly encountering stiff competition for philanthropic dollars from Cottage Hospital, now in the midst of an aggressive and ambitious fundraising campaign for Cottage’s massive remodel.

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