Burbank City Council Directs Staff To Negotiate Long-Term Lease With The Colony Theatre

Exterior of The Colony Theatre in Burbank, located at the Burbank Center Stage property owned by the City of Burbank. (Photo By Ross A. Benson)

In an unanimous 4-0 decision, the Burbank City Council directed City Staff to begin negotiations with The Colony Theatre on a long-term contract to operate the Burbank Center Stage space. Once the contract has been agreed upon, it will be brought back to Council for approval in the future.

In a more than seven-hour-long special meeting that stretched past 11:00 p.m. on Wednesday, October 4, Council members heard from the three finalist proposers, asked questions and deliberated for more than an hour before arriving at their unanimous decision. Council member Nick Schultz recused himself because his campaign had received a contribution of more than $250 in the past from one Colony supporter.

The Burbank Center Stage space was sent out for a Request For Proposals on December 19, 2022. After multiple delays, changing goalposts and a process that prompted public questions and complaints to Council and published by myBurbank News, City Staff took the unusual action of bringing the RFP directly to Council for guidance on August 22.

At the October 4 special meeting, 78 people spoke in person and several more phoned in for a public comment session that lasted more than 90 minutes. Public comment speakers had just one minute to convey their position on the matter to Council.

Marisa Garcia, Director of Parks and Recreation, gave a short summary of the Staff report presented to Council August 22.

“While this interview process is very unusual, we know that by involving Council in this decision-making process through an open forum it demonstrates the City’s commitment and dedication to transparency and impartiality,” said Garcia.

Each of the three finalist proposers, the Burbank YMCA partnered with Conundrum Theater, The Colony Theatre and Greenhouse Arts & Media, gave a 15 minute presentation of their vision for operation of the Burbank Center Stage to City Council.

They then answered 13 questions Council had released to the proposers and the public ahead of time. Each proposer was sequestered during the other proposers’ presentations.

After the presentations and question and answer sessions, Council then deliberated for more than an hour before arriving at their decision to direct Staff to negotiate a long-term contract with the current operators of the space, The Colony Theatre.

“I have had a long time interest in really seeing how we could build a more robust arts program and be really noticed for having a reputation as an arts community,” commented Council member Tamala Takahashi, who also serves as Council liaison with the Burbank Cultural Arts Commission.

“That’s why I asked that question about the tourism and about being seen as the center for arts in the Valley because that’s what I do see as the future for our city and have seen for a long time.”

“These are all wonderful ideas that belong in our city,” she said, noting appreciation for all three proposals presented that evening. “I believe the future for any city is collaboration.”

Council members discussed the challenge of making such a decision, the patience of the proposers, as well as the desire to see the groups collaborate together in the future.

“I want more art space in our community so all of you can have a space,” commented Council member Nikki Perez.

Mayor Konstantine Anthony expressed frustration with the years of failures on the part of the City to provide The Colony Theatre with a long-term contract. Since 2017, their longest contract was eight months, while being promised several times over those years that a long-term contract was in the works.

“There have been many, many failures to get us to this point,” said Anthony. “I can talk all night about DeBell, Castaway, the budget cuts we needed to make in 2018 when we had a budget crisis…”

He, too, praised the three proposers for their efforts, professionalism and vision.

“With all of my knowledge of how a theater should be run – a high-end professional theater, I feel we as a city have let down the current occupant for a very long time,” Anthony added. “It would be unfair of us to go through this whole RFP process and not reflect.”

Council member Zizette Mullins agreed with Anthony.

“We have a responsibility as the City, as Council members, to take a look and see what really happened here, what got us here…” she said. “We haven’t given them the full opportunity to give them a long-term contract.”

“Do we need to be more looking at what Staff or what the City could have done with the current [operator of the Burbank Center Stage space] Colony Theatre… yes,” Mullins added.

The Council then held a meandering discussion about potential collaboration between the proposers. Takahashi mentioned the allure of quarterly reports noted in one presentation multiple times, along with other elements of all three proposals that she liked.

The Colony Theatre has collaborated several times in the past with both the Burbank YMCA and Conundrum Theater. When The Colony discovered the Burbank YMCA was a proposer earlier in 2023, Colony leadership reached out to the Y to discuss collaboration but were rebuffed.

Mullins then noted the Burbank Center Stage is a business run for profit, and recognized that Council shouldn’t dictate collaboration.

Anthony noted The Colony Theatre’s expertise in managing and running a professional theater, having demonstrated that over the past two decades.

Perez emphasized her concern with the loss of several jobs immediately if The Colony Theatre did not receive the contract.

Council also encouraged a desire for City collaboration with Greenhouse Arts & Media and the Burbank YMCA/Conundrum in the future.

In the end, all four Council members voted unanimously for Staff to enter into negotiations with The Colony Theatre for a long-term contract.

“How do we ever put into words the gratitude that we have… [Wednesday night] we spent about seven hours in a special City Council meeting, fighting for the long-term lease to save our theater,” commented Heather Provost, Producing Artistic Director of The Colony Theatre. “Our family showed up, our family spoke out. Our family supported us, and our voices were heard. Our family of artists.”

“We were awarded the lease we were seeking, and we are celebrating with all artists who have found, and look to find a home in The Colony Theatre. That ALSO includes our fellow bidders,” Provost continued. “We see them, and we want them to know, we embrace them. 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. We will NOT let them down. We are excited for our work ahead.”

“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,” added Provost. “Thank you to all who have stood up, and stood by our side. We will NEVER forget. We are artists. Hundreds and hundreds of artists. And today, we are grateful.”

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