City vows to help theater group, but not with money

Closure of Civic Theatre West may put crimp in downtown revitalization efforts
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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City officials have touted downtown revitalization as rediscovering “the heart and soul of Roseville.” The Downtown Vernon Street and Historic Old Town Specific Plan envisions the Roseville and Tower theaters as part of a vibrant urban core. The plan calls for a public gathering space, parks, outdoor amphitheater, art galleries, unique retail shops, dining establishments and entertainment destinations. But a glitch in the plan occurred Nov. 10 when Civic Theatre West — the nonprofit organization that operates two theaters on Vernon Street — ceased operations due to $500,000 of debt. Roseville Mayor Pro Tempore Pauline Roccucci said the announcement caught her by surprise, as it did other members in the community. “I consider the two theaters vitally important to Roseville arts and downtown revitalization,” Roccucci said. “I hope we can all work together to find a solution to the funding problem.” Civic Theatre West’s board of directors unveiled a plan during a town hall meeting Nov. 19 stating that the organization needs to raise $350,000 by Dec. 15 to become financially solvent. About 300 people attended the event, including Roseville Assistant City Manager John Sprague, who called live theater a “critical component of downtown.” The theater group, formerly called Magic Circle Theatre, has since received $40,555 in pledges, said board President Calvin Stevens. The city is figuring out how to help save the organization, which likely won’t involve financial assistance, said Mark Wolinski, administrative analyst with the Roseville Redevelopment Agency. “Everybody recognizes the importance of the theater to the area,” he said. “(But) the city is in a different position than it has been in previous years. Budget constraints make it more challenging to provide monetary resources as we may have done in the past.” The city has partnered with the theater company for the last 23 years, and “it’s a strong, vital relationship,” Wolinski said. Over the years, the city contributed financially to the organization, including a $50,000 Citizens Benefit Fund grant — among the largest in Civic Theatre West’s history. “(Now) the city is focusing its efforts on how we can help in other ways,” Wolinksi said. For instance, Roseville Electric offered to perform an energy audit to determine how the organization could operate more efficiently and achieve lower electricity bills. “In talking with the theater, they want to make this effort (to reopen) set a new foundation to ensure they have sustainability going forward,” Wolinski said. But, in the meantime, the organization still needs that $350,000. Stevens said the organization has pinned its hopes on outreach to big donors, capable of donating sizeable chunks of money. “Two of our board members are approaching key larger donors this week to bring that figure up to levels where work can resume,” Stevens said Monday. “If we do not reach $350,000 we should honor our donors’ intent and not attempt a program inadequately resourced to survive. So we need that goal to proceed.” Scott Alvord, president of the Downtown Roseville Merchants Association, expressed concern about the theater group’s closure and impact on local business. “That’s a stressful event,” he said. “They’re a big draw.” Alvord owns A Dash of Panache on Vernon Street. He said the news of the closure was sudden and shocking. Michael Leeman of Turn the Page Press located downtown said his staff used to sell books, art supplies and other products in the lobby of the two theaters during matinee performances. “That was very successful,” he said. “It’s sad, not only because of the impact on us but for the arts in this part of town.” Under the specific plan, the downtown and Old Town neighborhoods will become a connected, pedestrian-friendly place where people “live, work and play,” in the words of Roseville City Manager Ray Kerridge who has voiced his support of a lively downtown since joining the city’s ranks in June. Over the past decade, the city has invested — among other projects in the area — $15 million into the renovation of Civic Center, $8.3 million into building a 550-space, free parking garage and $4.2 million into a Vernon Street streetscape-improvement project. In March, the redevelopment agency completed a $9.5 million renovation of a stretch of Riverside Avenue. The partnership has been mutually beneficial as several years ago Civic Theatre West covered a large portion of the cost to refurbish Roseville Theater, which the organization leases from the Masons, and the city-owned Tower Theater. Wolinski said the city provided “some funding” toward renovation costs. The theater group sold chair sponsorships to raise funds to remodel the 560-seat Roseville Theater, but leftover costs fed the organization’s mounting debt. The city will aggressively pursue a new operator for the theaters if Civic Theatre West remains closed, Wolinski said. “It would be a disadvantage to the downtown,” he said. “We can’t sit by idly if that unfortunate scenario plays out.” Sena Christian can be reached at ---------- To donate to Civic Theatre West, visit and register your pledge.