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"We had star power with other concerts last year," Stewart explains, referring to acts like Robert Plant, David Gilmour, and R. Kelly. "I think that has an effect."
"Are we losing headline concerts to someone else?" Thomas asks.
"Definitely not," says Stewart. "We're not missing out on anything, I can tell you that." Some acts move to arenas, she explains. "The whole Bay Area has so many options here. They can be picky and choosy."
Stewart adds that she's in "constant conversation" with booking agents and promoters. "It's not like they don't know us," she says. Jam band Widespread Panic is booked for three dates this fall. And for this show, Stewart has made the decision to allow drinks in the theater.
"Is that why we got them?" queries board member David Johnson.
"Yes," she replies. "We tried it before. It hasn't been an issue."
Since the Paramount reopened in 1973, the board has strictly forbidden drinks in the theater for fear that spills would ruin the upholstered seats. With the theater's high labor costs, cleanup could outweigh any potential revenue. Of course, sometimes the artists themselves don't want drinks allowed inside, as in the case of a recent performance by Morrissey. "He's had stuff used as projectiles," Stewart explains.
The board looks over a preliminary profit and loss statement. PG&E costs are going up, says Stewart. And there's bad news about the orchestra pit. Operations manager Jeff Ewald explains later that, during the Morrissey concert, the orchestra pit's old hydraulic system suffered a catastrophic failure and slowly dropped three feet. Stagehands had to build stairs to get people out. The repair will cost $75,000.
The group votes to approve the financial reports, then moves on to the general manager's report. Stewart says they have more high school graduation ceremonies lined up, and they're holding off on their classic movie series this summer because the city's free outdoor movie shows are cutting into their audience. She discusses reviews of the Morrissey show, bemused by his popularity. "He's no spring chicken," she says. "I don't see what the attraction is." And they received a donation of a spam filter worth $3,000 because theirs died. "Isn't that nice?" she coos. "I was absolutely overwhelmed."
Board member Lorenzo "Ren" Hoopes, who's 93, follows with an update on the Paramount's finances. Last summer, the board spent more than $600,000 from its endowment on a new carpet and sound system. The Paramount's endowment became the theater's safety net, funding capital costs and covering operational deficits since 1999, when the city cut off its subsidy. The endowment used to be funded largely from donations, but in the 1990s, the city agreed to let managers start earmarking certain facility revenues for the endowment. According to the Paramount's financial records, the theater has made money in seven of those eight years: By the end of the 200607 fiscal year, the endowment totaled more than $3.8 million, up from about $2.4 million in 1999.
While Hoopes says the theater's financial position is "very healthy and strong," he cautions that the board should lean toward more conservative investments as it "head[s] toward an uncertain future."
That "uncertain future" is a reference to coexistence with the Fox. City project manager Jeff Chew then gives the board an update on the theater, which is scheduled to open on October 27, 2008. Construction started in January, and seismic and structural work is being done. He says the theater's capacity will range from as small as 600 to as large as 2,500, depending on the setup. There will be two bars one in the upper lobby and another inside the theater. Chew tries to reassure the board that the new theater will be good for the Paramount's business.
But Stewart isn't so optimistic. "Our budget for '08-'09 won't be good," she demurs. "We'll be at a loss. That's direct competition. We're going to lose seats."
"It's going to change Uptown a lot," Chew counters. "The whole neighborhood is changing for the better. It is competition, but it's what this country is built on."
Chew says the city is working on strengthening the link between Telegraph Avenue and Broadway, between the Fox and the Paramount. "You'll see interaction," he promises.
"Is the operator free from the city?" asks Hoopes.
"We do get rent," Chew replies. He notes, for instance, that the Oakland School for the Arts, the tenant in the outer wing surrounding the theater, will be able to stage ten rent-free events in the theater per year.
"We've run into a stone wall with the city in talking about capital improvements," says board member and attorney Clinton Killian.
"If there are capital costs at the Fox, where will the money come from?" asks Johnson.
Seven Days - December 6, 9:52 AM
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Seven Days - December 4, 8:35 AM