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Saturday, December 15 , 2018, 11:13 pm | Fair 49º

 
 
 
 

Victoria Theatre Owners Reach Uneasy Settlement

Unity Shoppe not happy with entrée for Ensemble Theatre Company, but expresses readiness to cooperate

After a months-long standoff over renovations at the Victoria Theatre, the building’s three owners — CALM (Child Abuse Listening & Mediation), Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) and The Unity Shoppe — have resolved their simmering dispute. Mostly.

CALM and RSVP had supported leasing the building’s theater at 33 W. Victoria St. to Ensemble Theatre Company for increased revenue. But Unity Shoppe had fought to keep Ensemble from making structural changes to the hall, contending the alterations would preclude its volunteers from using that portion of the building for the nonprofit organization’s annual holiday telethon. Ensemble has plans to change the current open floorplan into a permanent ampitheater setup geared more toward theatrical productions.

Judge Steven Stone, a Los Angeles-based mediator and arbitrator, was brought in to interpret the building’s co-ownership agreement finalizing the binding arbitration process. He ruled that the authority to lease the Victoria Theatre is held by the building council, which includes the three owners and two voting members of the public who represent the community’s interests.

Although he expressed deep disappointment with the building council’s decision to allow Ensemble to proceed with alterations, Unity Shoppe executive director Tom Reed said his organization has promised to abide by the arbitration settlement’s terms.

“It’s a disagreement, it’s not a fight,” he said. “But this has been a very unexpected and emotional defeat for us here at Unity Shoppe.

“We bought the building 22 years ago with the idea of moving into it, and we never had the idea that we would lose the use of it. We may end up having to alter the way we do things, but that’s the reality we face.”

Ensemble Theatre Company had expressed hopefulness that Victoria Hall would become its new home. Officials said they were optimistic about getting the go-ahead for the roughly $5.1 million renovation, which will include retrofitting to bring the 89-year-old building up to current state seismic standards.

“We’re delighted,” said Ensemble executive artistic director Jonathan Fox. “We’re looking forward to moving in in about a year and a half.”

Fox added that although Ensemble’s capital campaign has not yet begun, the theater company expects to make an announcement soon to kick off the fund drive. Fundraising for the renovations, he said, is scheduled to occur over the next two years.

“We’re very excited about the artistic opportunities this presents for us and the city of Santa Barbara,” he said.

Reed expressed concern that the theater’s new arrangement would cause problems with Unity’s fundraising ability, adding that the shocked organization is now in crisis mode.

“We know that it’s not going to work,” he said. “All of a sudden, we’re stuck and can’t do the telethon fundraiser on site anymore.”

He explained that showing potential donors around Unity Shoppe’s nearby retail space at 1219 State St. is an essential part of its fundraising operation.

“We don’t do fundraisers at the Bacara and the Biltmore,” he said. “It just doesn’t work.”

Although Unity and the two other owners have been at odds over the building’s use, all three organizations have expressed commitment to working together to support one another’s missions within the framework of the arbitration decision.

“We respect the situation that Unity sees themselves in,” CALM board president Rich Schuette said. “They need to do everything they can to thrive and prosper, and we’re going to do everything we can to support each other. We’re at complete different ends of this, but we have respect for each other and the community we’re serving.”

In a conference call with Noozhawk on Monday evening, both Reed and Schuette pointed out that they depend upon the same community to support their operations. Both men were warm and respectful with one another throughout the conversation.

“This is a small community, and our donors and their donors need to understand that this bickering over a piece of property has finished,” Schuette said.

Noozhawk staff writer Ben Preston can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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