When Gov. Jerry Brown targeted redevelopment agencies as one source of money to close the yawning gap in his first budget, the handwriting was on the wall for the remarkably ambitious plans of the Livermore group. It operates the Bankhead Theater, a 507-seat community facility in downtown Livermore that has been well utilized since it opened in 2007.
More problematic for the organization are the plans for a 2,000-seat regional theater designed to compete with the major houses in San Francisco and San Jose. Those plans hinged on redevelopment funds coming from the increased property values of the theater and surrounding commercial and residential development. As it became clear that the Legislature was going to follow the governor’s lead and eliminate the agencies, the arts group and the city entered in what they argue is a binding agreement for $122 million in redevelopment agency funds.
The law abolishing the redevelopment agencies set up successor agencies made up of local officials. These are charged with determining whether obligations of the agencies were binding and pre-dated the change of the law and thus needed to be paid. The Livermore agency made that finding, but the state review—done by former Alameda County executive Steve Szalay—disallowed the charge, leaving the performing arts group with no choice but to try its hand in court.
The legal costs, if the Livermore group is successful, are trivial when compared with the construction costs of the theater to say nothing of the operating costs is the projections turn out to be a bit rosy.
It will be interesting to see how long the city leaders hang in with a giant vacant lot in downtown Livermore targeted for the theater. That site originally was designed for a mixed use retail and residential development that won city approval but never moved forward when the developer could not line up financing. With the residential market heating rapidly, there may well be a demand for a downtown project.
The arts board has a number of influential citizens who will want to see this one through, regardless of the amount of time the land stands vacant downtown.