Staff Seek City Council Input On Burbank Center Stage Request For Proposals Process; Recommends YMCA As New Operator, Shunning Burbank Icon 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)

City of Burbank Staff will ask the City Council at the August 22 meeting for input on the Burbank Center Stage Request For Proposals (RFP) process that has been subject to criticism from many quadrants for months-long delays, lack of communication and changing requirements multiple times throughout the procedure.

The agenda for the upcoming joint meeting with the Housing and Parking Authorities includes a report by Marisa Garcia, Director of Burbank Parks and Recreation, and Jennifer Becker, Financial Services Director released on Thursday, August 17. Another City Staff member whose name has come up frequently as intrinsically involved and acting with authority throughout the RFP process is Purchasing Department Buyer Karen Little.

Essentially, the report recommends the Burbank YMCA as the highest scoring of three candidates, according to metrics listed, but not detailed, in the report. Candidates were scored on “Qualifications and Prior Experience of Proposer, Proposed Use and Business Plan, Business Plan Assumptions, Proposed Rate, Interviews of highest rated Proposer(s) and Reference Checks.”

Although a numerical score and ranking was given to the three finalists, no explanation or demonstration of the reasoning behind those scores was included.

City Staff also included a lengthy discussion of reasoning for excluding the Burbank Cultural Arts Commission in the RFP decision-making process, primarily citing “Due to their active participation and well-connectedness in the community, BCC members can also introduce impartiality or influence into the process based on their direct financial interest or involvement with proposers.”

Burbank Cultural Arts Commissioners had initially been told they’d be included in the RFP process by City Staff.

Unfortunately, the Staff report did not discuss potential Burbank YMCA conflicts of interest and lack of impartiality by City Staff due to reported back-channel communications between top executives from the Y and City Staff, according to confidential sources and unconfirmed reports.

The Staff report to City Council mentioned that their “Review Panel consisted of six representatives, three theatre management subject-matter experts (with similar theater operations experience) from the cities of Brea, Beverly Hills, and Thousand Oaks, and three City staff from Community Development (Economic Development Division), P&R (Administration, Business Services and Facility Operations Division) and P&R (Community Services Division).”

The inclusion of “subject-matter experts” from Brea, Beverly Hills and Thousand Oaks, cities that are all very different from Burbank when comparing location, history, tax-base, community, culture and proximity to the production and consumption of the arts, including live professional theater, is interesting to note. Brea and Thousand Oaks aren’t even located in Los Angeles County.

The August 17 report does not identify who those individuals are nor exactly how their experience is valid or appropriate concerning the operation of the Burbank Center Stage space and professional theater, nor take into consideration concerns specific to the community of Burbank.

In a press release sent out just days after publication of myBurbank’s investigation into the ongoing questions and issues with the Request For Proposals process on July 10, City Staff, again unnamed, seek to involve the City Council in the “decision-making process” because “the City of Burbank is reaffirming its commitment to openness and inclusivity. The Council’s input will ensure that the future management and operations of the cherished Burbank Center Stage align with the collective vision of the community.”

Basically, City Staff offers the City Council three choices in bringing the RFP before them at this time: (1) Confirm the anonymous committee’s choice of the Burbank YMCA as the highest-scoring proposer and commence negotiations, (2) Cancel the current RFP process and begin a new updated RFP process or (3) Select one of the other two qualified proposers and direct Staff to commence negotiations.

Who are the three remaining contenders?

The Burbank YMCA is primarily known for fitness and health classes, childcare programs and community involvement. According to their website, “We are the leading voice on health and well-being for all. And we are committed to giving back, providing support and responding to our community, our city, and our country’s most critical social needs. As a result, countless numbers of youth, adults and families are receiving the guidance and resources they need to achieve greater health and well being.”

The Greenhouse Arts & Media organization “is home to a global community of film and television industry creatives and the essential resources for anyone serious about building community and a sustainable career in the Arts and Entertainment Industries,” according to their website. They offer courses, events, resources and networking opportunities, for a price. Currently, only two virtual three-hour-long workshops are listed as upcoming/available but no other events, courses, labs or other workshops are offered online or in person.

According to an article published on Creighton University’s website, Shun Lee Fong, a graduate of the Jesuit university who founded the arts organization in 2007, said The Greenhouse “began as a group of individuals who wanted to collaborate creatively in a variety of artistic disciplines, to explore the intersection of their own talents with the broader world, to serve one another and their community in a spirit of faith and fellowship.”

The Colony Theatre has operated the Burbank Center Stage space as both a “world class” theater and a community resource with a variety of programming and outreach for more than two decades. Their history with the City of Burbank, challenges brought on by the pandemic and recent success in returning to profitability were detailed in the July 10 myBurbank article.

The recently-added requirement of a second round of interviews was initially supposed to occur the last week of June. Those were put on hold, just after initial complaints made by a proposer and a commissioner were published in myBurbank’s Letters To The Editor section on June 20 and 22. The second round was then rescheduled for the week of July 10, but were canceled via email on July 12, the same day the City of Burbank issued a press release update.

Both Garcia and Little refused to comment directly to myBurbank on bidder and commissioners’ concerns and complaints.

Bryan Snodgrass, COO of the Burbank YMCA, has declined commenting on the Burbank Center Stage RFP process.

The Greenhouse Arts & Media has not returned multiple calls and emails requesting comment.

Members of After Hours Theater Company, a fourth candidate that was ultimately disqualified, had much to say about the lack of communication from City Staff for the RFP process, in the July 10 myBurbank investigative article and in a June 22 Letter To The Editor.

Burbank Parks and Recreation and Purchasing Staff who have been involved with the RFP for the Burbank Center Stage listed four vendors on the “Bid Results” page for their public PlanetBids posting: Burbank YMCA, The Greenhouse Arts & Media, After Hours Theater Company and the current operator of the space, The Colony Theatre.

However, After Hours Theater Company, despite being listed as a finalist on PanetBids, were told back in March 2023, that they would not be given an interview and were dropped from consideration. The report released August 17 details Staff’s explanation for the disqualification of After Hours Theater Company, that their application was missing financial documents, although After Hours says they did submit that information.

The lack of inclusion and sharing of information with the Burbank Cultural Arts Commission, who had initially been told by City Staff they would be part of the process, prompted Commissioner Suzanne Weerts to withdraw from consideration for an additional term on the commission after the conclusion of her service on July 31.

Weerts’ statement during public comment at the June 13 City Council meeting, which was cut short for time, was published in full in a June 20 Letter To The Editor.

“The City Council meeting on Tuesday, August 22, will be monumental… not just for us at The Colony Theatre, not just for the City of Burbank, but for the entire national landscape of the arts community as a whole,” commented Heather Provost, Producing Artistic Director of The Colony Theatre. 

“We have read the Parks and Rec staff report for Tuesday night and their decision to choose and recommend the Young Men’s Christian Association to take over our theater.”

“The decision City Council makes will show where this city stands, and a lot of eyes will be on it.”

“We’ve presented a proposal that supports our city in being the Media Capital of the World, and keeps our historic institution of theater in place (almost 50 years of serving the community, 23 of which, here in Burbank),” Provost continued. “Including but not limited to – professional experience, relationships, expertise in the field, mentorship, community outreach, and an unprecedented coalition of partnerships and collaboration with some of the area’s most impactful arts organizations and creatives, are all things we bring to the table.”

“But we need our city to have our backs, and the backs of all artists who walk through our doors. We are only asking for a fair long-term lease for us to remain the safe haven for artists that we pride ourselves on being.”

“We continue to have hope that if there is still good left in our political system and municipal government, then that good will triumph,” Provost added. “We are of the belief that the City Council will do the right thing by the people of Burbank and the arts community. We remain hopeful. The world is watching.”

Although not offered by Staff as an option, the City Council could choose a fourth way forward. They could cancel the RFP for the Burbank Center Stage and direct staff to negotiate a long-term lease with The Colony Theatre. The Colony Theatre has been told for years by City Staff that a long-term lease was in the works but it never materialized.

The City Council meeting on August 22 can be watched in person at council chambers, on YouTube, Spectrum Channel 6 or live online via the City of Burbank’s portal here. Citizens are invited to give public comment in person, with a time limit that has recently been as short as one minute in length, by signing up at the very beginning of the meeting at 6:00 p.m.

Instructions on giving public comment are noted in the agenda.

For those watching online, it is possible to phone in for public comment as well by calling 818-238-3335.

The Burbank City Council meeting is held in Council Chambers at City Hall, located at 275 E. Olive Avenue in Burbank.

Here is the press release from the City of Burbank, published just days after our July 10 story:

Burbank, CA (July 12, 2023) – In a resolute demonstration of its commitment to fairness, transparency, and the vibrant arts community it serves, the City of Burbank will bring the request for proposal process for the sublease, management, and operations of the Burbank Center Stage to the City Council for review. This decision comes in light of recent external communications amongst stakeholders that have expressed concern about the process.

On December 19, 2022, the City of Burbank announced the release of Request for Proposals No. PR-2023-45025-1019, inviting innovative proposals for the sublease, management, and operations of the iconic Burbank Center Stage. This endeavor aimed to foster creativity and bolster community engagement in the rich tapestry of artistic expression that defines Burbank. A confidential evaluation of the criteria and procedures outlined in Phases 1 through 3 of the Request for Proposals was conducted by a review panel comprised of three subject-matter experts in community theater and three City staff members. This panel examined each proposal to ensure a thorough and impartial assessment.

Unfortunately, since the panel’s work, the City has become aware of an array of external communications, including social media discussions and local press coverage, pertaining to the RFP process. These communications, while indicative of the community’s unwavering passion for the arts, have caused concerns about continuing to maintain the integrity and objectivity of any additional evaluation process.

Considering these external circumstances, the City will seek guidance and direction from the City Council at a public meeting. A comprehensive presentation will be delivered, scheduled tentatively for August 22, 2023, wherein the available options for the operations of Burbank Center Stage, as requested within the RFP, will be outlined.

By involving the City Council in the decision-making process, the City of Burbank is reaffirming its commitment to openness and inclusivity. The Council’s input will ensure that the future management and operations of the cherished Burbank Center Stage align with the collective vision of the community.”

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