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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on March 27th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 3 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 3

Lompoc eyes potential changes for its theater

BY CAMILLIA LANHAM

Getting Lompoc’s historic theater from where it is now—dilapidated and rotting on a corner in downtown—to where some citizens want it to be—restored and bringing tourists to downtown—is going to take some finagling.

The jumbled loans that make up the Lompoc Housing and Community Development Corporation’s (LHCDC) debt on the theater have held the property in limbo since the corporation dissolved and California brought the ax down on redevelopment agencies last year.

Members of the Lompoc Theater Project Corporation (LTPC) told the Lompoc City Council at its meeting on March 19 that they might be willing to take ownership of the building if most, or all, of the debt and back taxes owed on the property can be cleared up.

LTPC President Brian Cole called the debt a “hard-to-grasp jigsaw puzzle,” and explained that the group didn’t form to pick up where LHCDC left off.

“We did not form to pay off old debts, liens, [or] taxes on the property,” Cole said. “[We] envision acquiring or leasing the theater beginning with a clean slate.”

They spoke to the council in response to a proposal drawn up by city staff that includes the steps necessary to transfer the title of ownership from LHCDC to the Lompoc Theater Project. The staff report was compiled after the March 5 council meeting, where the latter nonprofit voiced its desire to help with the theater.

The theater project nonprofit formed in August 2012 with the goal of restoring the historic Lompoc Theater back to its former glory. The organization is still waiting on paperwork for the group to become a federally sanctioned nonprofit, so members aren’t quite ready to start taking over building titles.

Through grant writing and community fundraising, members think they’ll be able to raise the necessary funds to restore the theater; $700,000 or more is the estimate just to fix or replace the leaky, rotting roof. The group informed the council on March 19 that the community wouldn’t give them money to pay off LHCDC’s debts after all that happened with the nonprofit’s dissolution.

LHCDC took out a $700,000 loan from the city’s redevelopment agency when it first purchased the property. It also borrowed $225,000 from the city in the form of a Community Block Development Grant, allocated specifically to reduce blight; and a $175,000 loan from the Calverts, the former owners of the theater. The nonprofit also owes $33,000 in back property taxes.

The staff report delivered to the council outlines six steps that include forgiving the $700,000 loan, transferring the title from LHCDC to the Lompoc Theater Project, and gaining approval from the state Department of Finance. However, the Theater Project is not 100 percent on board with the city’s six steps, and some of the details still need to be worked out before the nonprofit will agree to take over the theater’s title from the LHCDC.

 At the March 19 meeting, the council voted to move forward with the many steps of the process and to begin negotiating with the theater project on the conditions of a potential title transfer. Lompoc’s mayor, John Linn, told the Sun he’s glad the city is finally starting to resolve the issue.

“This is a piece of our heritage,” Linn said of the theater. “As soon as that theater gets opened, then all the vacant lots around it will get filled because it’s like a hub.”

Even if, in the end, the Lompoc Theater Project decides to remain on the sidelines and only help with restoration efforts, Linn said having a clear path forward to a transfer of ownership gives the city some hope that someday the property will head in the right direction. And if there are other potential theater-title takers, he encourages them to step up.

“If anybody else is interested,” Linn said, “by all means come on down.”