Friday, January 22, 2010

Was Lorenzo Hoopes a Worthy Board Member for the Paramount?

By Kathleen Richards
Fri, Jan 22, 2010 at 7:48 PM

Many gay-rights activists and supporters recently have denounced the re-nomination of Lorenzo Hoopes to the Paramount Theatre’s board of directors because the 96-year-old former president of the Mormon Temple was Oakland’s leading contributor to Proposition 8, the anti-gay-marriage initiative. Indeed, Mayor Ron Dellums decided to hold off on deciding about Hoopes’ nomination, and the San Francisco Chronicle reported that he likely won’t get enough votes from the city council to win final approval. But history suggests there are plenty of other reasons to question the qualifications of the theater’s longtime board member.

As I reported in a cover story on the Paramount back in 2007, the nonprofit Paramount board, which operates on behalf of the city-owned facility, has long been criticized (most notably, by former Tribune writer Peggy Stinnett) for being blithely out of touch, lacking transparency and industry knowledge, and sticking with the status quo. At least two members — Hoopes included — are in their nineties, and have been on the board since its inception in 1973.

Then-board member Rene Boisvert argued that the largely self-perpetuating board wasn’t nearly proactive enough in making the historic theater a thriving arts and entertainment venue. Among his recommendations: that the facility could be self-sufficient and “had a whole lot more potential if it chose to emulate the more successful facilities around the country.” In short, he believed that the theater could benefit from sponsorships, increased marketing, increased beverage sales, allowing beverages to be brought inside the theater, and producing more of its own shows. Yet the board wasn’t focused on making money, he said. When she was first hired, General Manager Leslee Stewart noticed that the Paramount didn’t sell bottled water. For a Britney Spears concert, she ended up buying cases of water to sell, which completely sold out. Boisvert believed that adding another bar would add significant revenue to the facility’s operation.

According to Boisvert, the board rejected all his recommendations and, eventually, he was booted off. Hoopes was among the board members who voted against him. And, according to Jeff Chew, who acts as the liaison between the city and the Paramount, that third bar still hasn’t been built. Still, he said the theater is “doing really well. It’s endowment is intact. It’s a big contributor to that end of the Uptown.”

While Hoopes clearly has been devoted to the Paramount for decades (he was involved in the fund-raising that helped restore the theater), it’s not clear whether he’s been very effective. In fact, some of his beliefs may have been costing the Paramount (and the city) potential revenue. In 2002, Boisvert convinced the Paramount board to pay for a study on possible sponsorships at the theater. According to the report, the opportunities were worth more than $400,000 per year. But in an interview at the time of my story, Hoopes called Boisvert’s ideas “completely impractical.” He said he hoped to increase the theater’s sale of beverages — “stopping short of having to take drinks into the theater.” He called the Paramount “primarily a rental building” and said that being a producer was “risky business.” “We don’t do that,” he said, adding that the Paramount’s classic movie series was an exception. “We get our income from renting or movie classics,” he said.

“Nothing that I’ve ever said to them is reinventing the wheel, it’s just new to their 25- or 30-year-old way of doing things,” said Boisvert. “Some of those board members have been there for 20, 25 years, and embracing new things isn’t their comfort zone.”

Stewart wouldn’t respond to questions about Hoopes, nor would Chew. A phone call to board member Clinton Killian was not returned in time for publication.

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