Published: Tuesday, October 4, 2005
Warren mayor's stance on Robins Theater is sensible
HOW WE SEE IT
No one can accuse Warren Mayor Michael O'Brien of being culturally challenged. O'Brien's support of W.D. Packard Music Hall has been long-standing and consistent. He favors the subsidization of the hall with public dollars and is even attempting to secure a $1 million state bond for the facility.
So when O'Brien comes out against the city's being involved in the costly renovation of the privately owned Robins Theater, he deserves to be heard. After all, the city of Warren, like the city of Youngstown, does not have a bottomless public treasury and must prioritize spending. While entertainment facilities are important to a community's quality of life, O'Brien is right in contending that Packard Music Hall adequately meets Warren's needs.
A study of Robins conducted by Westlake, Reed & Leskosky, architects and engineers of Cleveland, has pegged the cost of restoring the 82-years-old movie and vaudeville theater at $12.3 million. It is owned by Brad Phillips.
"As expected, it's an awful lot of money to bring back a structure that was used for motion pictures," the mayor says. While the study was paid for with a $30,000 state grant, O'Brien believes that spending any more public money on the building would be a waste, which is why he is supporting an effort by state Rep. Randy Law, R-Warren, to have a $1 million state bond transferred from Robins to Packard. The mayor is asking state Sen. Marc Dann, D-Liberty Township, to sponsor a companion bill in the Senate to facilitate the transfer. It is not an unreasonable request given Packard's importance, the deteriorated condition of the old movie theater and the city's limited resources.
With the consultants painting a rosy picture of Robins' future, it would seem that owner Phillips would have no problem attracting private funding. Westlake, Reed & Leskosky is proposing a reduction in the theater's seating capacity from 1,351 to about 700 to create a more intimate performance space. The consultant also recommends enlarging the lobby into a multipurpose room that can be used as a banquet and conference room. And, it proposes the creation of a second-floor VIP lounge that can double as a classroom or conference room. A new scene shop and quick change wardrobe are also being proposed.
But in the end, the project's success depends on the level of private sector interest. Public dollars should not be put at risk.
As Mayor O'Brien points out, even if a state or federal grant were secured for the restoration of Robins, there is still the matter of the annual operating and maintenance cost.
As the city of Youngstown has found out with its convention/convocation center, private developers are unwilling to risk their money for such entertainment-related projects. The so-called arena, which is scheduled to open shortly, is being built with a $26.8 million federal grant, a $2 million state grant and money from city government's treasury. While a private company, Global Entertainment, has the contract to manage the facility, it will not be paying for the operation and maintenance. Rather, the revenue generated from the various events will cover that cost.
If there is a shortfall, the city of Youngstown will be expected to write the check. Youngstown officials insist that such a worse-case scenario is unlikely.
In Warren, the mayor has sent a clear message that he is unwilling to dip into the public treasury to pay for a project that is iffy at best.