The Citizens Amphitheater Committee meeting Friday, Aug. 25, marked significant progress towards presenting the San Clemente City Council with a recommendation soon, as the group favored constructing a performing arts center within a local warehouse.
The committee concluded that it would move on from using the vacant Krikorian theater and seek a commercial space within the Rancho San Clemente Business Park, it preferred a nonprofit organization to operate the space day-to-day, and that at least four local entities were interested in using the eventual center.
Those organizations include Ballet Academy & Movement, the Cabrillo Playhouse and the San Clemente High School Drama Department from within town, and the Camino Real Playhouse of San Juan Capistrano.
Leslie Eisner, president and artistic director of the Camino Real Playhouse, volunteered to take on the role of operating the nonprofit and to speak with City Manager Andy Hall about working together with the city.
“We’re a nonprofit, we’re already established, we’ve been in business for 35 years now, and we’ve been fundraising for the past two (or) three years in anticipation of having to move because we lost our property,” said Eisner. “I don’t know what the City of San Clemente is willing to … what capacity they’re able to partner with us, but we would be willing to take that on.”
In addition to the regular committee members, new member Pamela Roth attended the meeting as Mayor Pro Tem Steve Knoblock’s choice for the committee. Roth was joined by Eisner, Ballet Academy & Movement owner and Director Amanda Cobb, and Cabrillo Playhouse Artistic DirectorMichael Lopez.
At the committee’s previous meeting, it toured the Krikorian and spoke with Jim Wynne, the building’s real estate representative.
Staff liaison and Beaches, Parks, and Recreation Director Samantha Wylie summarized the group’s findings.
“One of the big concerns is funding, of course, that it is a very high price tag for monthly rent at about $3 per square foot,” she said. “It is a 24,000-square-foot facility, so that’s a big ticket. Then, of course, there would need to be some work that would need to be done (as there are) no stages, there aren’t any backstage areas, there’s no tech system setup.”
Committee member Wayne Eggleston first mentioned the benefits of having a nonprofit for such a project, whether at the Krikorian or other places. He added that with other theater organizations potentially being interested in using the space once the word gets out, the building would need a master lessee to sublease space out to other groups.
Eggleston said he was impressed with the Krikorian, which holds four large amphitheater-type rooms and two smaller rooms.
“Here’s an opportunity before us right now to have the Krikorian theater–it’s already set up with six theaters, which is perfect,” he said. “I don’t know. Are other groups absolutely interested in leasing on a monthly basis? If you are, then these groups need to step forward and the city may be interested at that point then, to become more involved.”
Amanda Quintanilla, another member, was also impressed with the structure but stated everything surrounding the progress of the amphitheater efforts would come back to funding concerns. The arts entities in attendance echoed those thoughts, saying the rent at the Krikorian was too high.
That and the lengthy project timeframe that was expected to get the technical setup, storage, and dressing room space in place, on top of permitting, effectively eliminated the vacant theater from consideration.
Eisner then suggested using a 10,000- to 11,000-square-foot warehouse and building a performing arts space from a “blank slate” that could accommodate each stakeholder’s wishes. Her theater would only need a capacity of 100 to 150 seats, while Cobb, Lopez and McCleary all spoke of wanting at least 300.
Eisner also ran through a list she had of available warehouse spaces in town.
Quintanilla referenced a conversation she had with City Manager Hall, detailing that if the city were to partner with a nonprofit for such a center, it would have to demonstrate the benefits it’d bring back to San Clemente.
Eisner responded, estimating that for every dollar patrons spend at the Camino Real Playhouse, another eight gets spent at San Juan Capistrano’s other businesses such as eateries and bars.
“Eighty percent of the people seeing our shows are not from San Juan Capistrano; 80% are from outside and surrounding areas,” she said. “It’s a magnet to the city. It’s pulling people in to shop and eat, so, it does bring a benefit to the city financially.”
The only player with reservations about the proceedings was Lopez, who detailed the Cabrillo Playhouse’s struggles in getting a permanent, 44-seat outdoor amphitheater permitted by the city.
“I don’t want to put a negative on this, but for another theater to come in, and–we’re already competing for actors, and I understand that and that’s theater no matter what, that’s just how it is,” said Lopez. “But to have another theater that the city says, ‘Oh, we’re going to support them,’ and we’re sitting there having been here for 70 years, (that) makes me go, ‘Hm. Wow.”
Eisner reassured him that South Orange County had a significant appetite for theater, which could accommodate both organizations.
With Wylie coordinating a meeting between Eisner and Hall, the committee looked to meet again at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 31. Then, the group could discuss the results of Eisner’s conversations and the general message it wants to present as a recommendation to the council.