HomeCommunity NewsCity Grants Long-Term Lease to Colony Theatre

City Grants Long-Term Lease to Colony Theatre

The Colony Theatre was successful in its recent bid to continue producing theater at the city-owned Burbank Center Stage building, after a recent decision by the City Council put an end to the protracted bidding process which drew a great deal of criticism by the public.

The decision also included a long-term lease for the company, which has spent several years without such a contract in place.

The location has been the focus of a monthslong feud between the city and three bidders, The Burbank YMCA — in partnership with Conundrum Theatre Company — Greenhouse Arts and Media, and the Colony Theatre, which went into the Wednesday meeting hoping to secure an agreement for the space where it has run live theater, dance, arts and culture events for 23 years.

“How do we ever put into words the gratitude that we have?” the Colony stated in an email to stakeholders. “We spent about seven hours in a special City Council meeting, fighting for the long-term lease to save our theater. Our family showed up, our family spoke out. Our family supported us, and our voices were heard.”

The bid contest for the 14,000-square-foot theater space adjacent to the Burbank Town Center was initiated by the city in late 2022 when the Burbank Parks Department invited arts and theater organizations to apply to lease the space, a routine practice for city property, Parks staff said.

As part of a development agreement with the Burbank Town Center, the city leases the building at a very low cost and is committed to utilizing the space for arts and theater.

There has been general confusion and outrage over the RFP process since it was initiated. A movement to “Save the Colony” swelled in recent months.

Much of the outrage comes from claims made by various applicants who alleged that the process was mishandled, biased and delayed multiple times. The city initially disputed these accusations, saying that the process was fair until the public got involved and compromised the confidentiality of the RFP.

“There have been many, many failures to get us here tonight, and nobody on that side of the wall did anything wrong,” said Mayor Konstantine Anthony, gesturing toward the proposers and implying that city staff was at fault for the drawn out RFP.

One applicant, After Hours Theatre Company, argued they were wrongly disqualified from the process for a “lack of communication.”

Representatives for After Hours told the Leader they hadn’t heard back on their application for weeks, and that its team called the city repeatedly without response ahead of being disqualified.

City staff apologized for what it called an “initial lack of communication” prior to the RFP.

In response to rising tensions, staff recommended that the City Council take over the process, conduct short interviews and decide on a bid-winner. That meeting was held Wednesday, Oct. 4, and it saw a total of 86 public comments and lasted more than seven hours.

Each bidder shared their proposal in 15-minute addresses to the City Council, followed by a series of 13 questions each, asked by the panel.

The YMCA and Conundrum Theatre Company were first up to make their case, and identified themselves as a community-oriented theater with a functioning business model that could survive the modern challenges of a regional playhouse.

“We care about youth and youth education, the arts in our community and our local economy,” said Brian Snodgrass — CEO of Burbank Community YMCA and a founding member of YMCA partner Conundrum Theatre Company — during the YMCA’s 15-minute presentation.

The Colony followed, and distinguished themselves from their fellow applicants by establishing a highly developed theater program. They submitted that they are the only group with experience operating a professional theater and community theater.

“We are an award winning, historic artistic institution. We are the only proposer with the ability to provide a theater for the community as well as a true arts destination,” said Producing Artistic Director for the Colony Heather Provost.

“We will offer an exciting, fully developed artistic season with and through our partnerships in all arts mediums — visual arts, dance comedy music, film, multimedia and theater — worthy of a media capital of the world.”

Last up, the Greenhouse Arts and Media — called the dark horse in the race by Anthony — positioned themselves as experienced arts educators primed to incubate a creative environment for young media professionals.

“A lot of young creative professionals are very nervous about where things are going and our job is to create an environment where they aren’t scared of what lies before them,” said Shun Lee Fong, president and creative director for the Greenhouse.

“The greenhouse will shape this center into a home for the creative arts of all disciplines. A place where artists and the general public meet and interact, and which will serve as a cultural hub for the local community.”

Initially, city staff recommended the Burbank YMCA as the next lessee of the Burbank Center Stage. The YMCA received the highest score by a panel of city staff and industry experts earlier this year, while the Colony received the least.

The Colony also trailed significantly in their score in the interview portion held earlier this year.

The City Council took those scores into consideration, but, as they conducted their own interviews and reviewed each proposal, no scoring metric was applied in the Wednesday decision.

Instead, several Council members said that the Colony was not given a fair shot. Anthony added that the Colony has not had a long-term contract since 2018, despite the theater’s constant contact with city staff on the subject. The longest contract the Colony has had in place since that date was eight months. The Colony has said that it is impossible to run a professional theater in the short term.

“I feel like we have, as a city, let down the current occupant for a very long time, and it would be unfair of us to go through this whole RFP process and not reflect on that,” Anthony said.

One reason for conducting an RFP, according to the city, is that the process induces competition and generates new ideas for the utilization of the space by all bidders. It was pointed out by several members of the Council that, though it was a tumultuous process, the RFP benefited the city as a whole in generating new ideas for Burbank Center Stage.

“I know this was a really tough road to go down, but I must say I am really glad to have heard all the presentations. There were so many wonderful ideas. For the first time really hearing some innovative, future-focused thoughtful plans. So many dreaming for the future of Burbank in a way I have not heard before,” said Councilwoman Tamala Takahashi.

“Never let a good crisis go to waste,” said Takahashi, quoting Winston Churchill.

Anthony called the Conundrum’s proposal visionary, and took issue with the fact that the Greenhouse put together a proposal “almost identical to what the Colony is already doing.”

Then, a shift took place in the sixth hour of the meeting. Council members Takahashi and Perez proposed that all three candidates collaborate, and searched for a way to include all candidates in a final contract.

After some discussion between Council members and the city attorney, it became clear that a shared contract would be difficult. Instead, the Council encouraged the YMCA, Conundrum and the Colony to collaborate in future programs.

Following this discussion, the Council took a unanimous vote, directing staff to negotiate a long-term lease with the Colony Theatre.

“[To] our fellow bidders: We see you, and we want you to know, we embrace you. We look forward to collaborations that will bring incredible art to this world. We also want to graciously thank our City Council members for listening, understanding, and for granting us the chance to thrive and flourish. Thank you for hearing our voices. … Every artist matters, and our goal will continue to be, to lift and support the endeavors of the artistic community. We are grateful for the ability to now truly do so,” Provost said.

First published in the October 14 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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