The Show Need Not Go On
Union Tribune (2009-10-31) Don Sevrens
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The show need not go on
Saturday, October 31, 2009
EAST COUNTY — The East County Performing Arts Center in El Cajon is closing for two years, foreshadowing that in these changing times a venue built 33 years ago no longer can compete.
With construction of the city's new police headquarters, convenient parking supposedly is not available. Actually, construction provides political cover to El Cajon for opting out of an unworkable operating agreement. Under a deal with Christian Community Theater, the latest operator, Art Beat
Management, was created as a church/state buffer. But Art Beat
did little marketing and closed the box office. ECPAC was used as a rent-free home for the organization's programs. Further, Art Beat
pocketed the rents of other productions yet still asked the city for subsidies.
Let's be clear: Most cities have found that taxpayer subsidies are inescapable. But culture in the East County's 1,142-seat showcase has come to mean junior productions, senior follies, Christmas pageants and little more. Many of these events could just as well be in a school auditorium.
So ECPAC will be closing, occasionally turning the lights on for dates booked long ago. Its future looks just as dark. Book a touring vocalist with name appeal? No, nearby casinos surely will overbid. Lure a touring musical, say “Phantom of the Opera?” No, ECPAC cannot handle standard-sized scenery. Sign up the San Diego Symphony for a guest performance? It's easier and less costly for patrons to take the trolley downtown. How about weddings and receptions, or corporate functions? Well no — ECPAC has no meeting or banquet space.
Costly repairs need to be done. Start with the leaking roof or ramps for the disabled. Then there are the want-to-do's such as Mayor Mark Lewis' visions of an exit toward Main Street or surrounding meeting space. The mayor has his eye on diverting millions in redevelopment money to the cause.
There's no formal plan, as yet, and David Cooksy, the city's redevelopment director, is not in the loop. The City Council as Redevelopment Agency could vote to divert funds, but that would be a major mistake.
This performance hall has become a white elephant, one showing its age and with no signs that in competition with other venues it will endure in the survival of the fittest.
Before El Cajon pours millions into elephant food and supplies, it needs a plan — and a prolonged civic discussion.