Earlier this year, my wife and I decided to make a significant donation to the B Street Theatre’s campaign to build a new theater in midtown Sacramento. We did that because, as B Street subscribers for many years, we have enjoyed the company’s plays, appreciate its outreach to schools and children, and believe theater is an important contribution to the cultural life of Sacramento.
In its more than 25 years in Sacramento, the B Street Theatre has built up a loyal following of some 7,000 subscribers. It presents seven plays a season to about 75,000 people. Its Family Series primarily serves children and their families with 12 weekly performances. The theater offers classes in acting and playwriting for adults and children as it endeavors to build up a love of theater in the community.
In a difficult business, the B Street Theatre has achieved success despite being located in an unfashionable part of town and contending with the rumble of trains lumbering along tracks right behind its building. The new theater at 27th Street and Capitol Avenue presents a fine opportunity for the theater company to build on its success and expand its offerings to the community for decades to come.
To start construction on the $22 million project this fall or winter, the not-for-profit B Street company needs to raise $3 million in donations and pin down a $7 million private loan, said consultant Marika Rose. It is not asking the city for a subsidy, she said, although donations from any source would be welcome.
In more prosperous times, the city gave B Street about $1 million in preconstruction funding in 2007, Rose said. Since the economic downturn, the city has provided moral support, she said, but no money for the midtown theater project.
I had contacted B Street Theatre folks because I wondered how their project was going in view of the city’s huge financial commitment to subsidizing a new Kings arena downtown. How much money could the city, already $2 billion in debt, give to worthy cultural enterprises if it dumped $300 million into millionaires’ pockets?
I was relieved to learn the B Street folks had crafted a sensible business plan, one consistent with the disciplined hard work that had allowed for responsible growth through the years. They remain optimistic construction will start this year, Rose said.
While I believe the city should invest in the arts, parks, bike trails and youth programs, it’s evident that the grandiose public funding of the arena now planned will put the screws to many worthwhile projects that enhance our lifestyle.
Nevertheless, you may have read articles suggesting the arena, the new B Street theater and a planned privately funded soccer stadium at Cal Expo are cut from the same cloth and reflect the revitalization of cowtown Sacramento. They don’t.
The theater and soccer stadium aren’t raiding the public treasury for millions of dollars for a financially risky project. The con artists promoting the arena, promoted by their favorite cheerleader at the Sacramento Bee, columnist Marcos Breton, want to ride the coattails of laudable independent projects while obscuring the irresponsibility, greed and self-serving politics behind the arena.