Tucson’s Rialto Theatre–I Would Do The Same for You
It’s not news that the music we love is hit hard by the current economy. That’s on top of the upheaval brought about by downloads and the related shakeout of the music industry, and the shakeout in publishing that has washed up magazines that used to be a key source of support for musicians. What’s the worst that could happen? As it is, now, about the only way bands we love can earn money is through touring and selling merch on the road. What if venues start closing? As you know, perhaps all too painfully, that’s happening, too.
Everyone knows about Hotel Congress as a great venue for singer-songwriters, rootsy pop and Americana of just about every kind. Fewer know about Plush, which has, throughout its existence, also fervently supported music we like.
But only the Rialto Theatre, across the street from Hotel Congress, is the right size, and, thanks to huge investements by the insanely committed Rialto Theatre Foundation, has the most outstanding sound, to accommodate the numbers of fans who want to see Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Son Volt/Cowboy Junkies (July 12; the night before eviction), Bela Fleck, Keb Mo’, The Avett Brothers, Bruce Cockburn–and that’s just to name a few over four months! There’s also hometown boys, Calexico.
This is not a failing venue; it’s paying all its bills. Moreover, it’s a critical link in the growing downtown Tucson arts district, which next month will be connected via a new trolley to the University of Arizona and its surrounding nightlife, including Plush and several other clubs along 4th Avenue.
The City of Tucson recognizes the Rialto’s importance to downtown Tucson, and is trying to figure out a solution, but the developers involved are being unreasonable–and I say this despite ordinarily being pretty understanding about the facts of business life, especially in the music business.
So I ask you, please–take the time to at least skim through the long message below from the Rialto. Follow the links if you have questions and want more background. Make up your own mind. But if this feels as unjust to you as it does to me, please fire off a few e-mails to the Mayor and Council (they’re listed, below).
You have my word, I will do the same for you when music, and its fans, are threatened in your town.
FROM THE RIALTO THEATRE
Update on Our Situation and a Call to Action
On July 2, the Rialto Theatre Foundation was served with a 10-day eviction notice for the Green Room and Office building at 211-215 E. Broadway and the storefront at 316 E. Congress (just west of the lobby) that we use for storage of supplies and equipment.
These spaces-about 3,500 square feet-are critical for the ongoing operation of the Theatre and are owned by Don Martin and Scott Stiteler, owners of the Rialto block. The Theatre has used these spaces for the last four years. The rest of the Rialto block is vacant. The Rialto building is a gutted shell with a boarded-up storefront and the back building was little more than a bombed-out shell before the Foundation spent about $70,000 improving it for its offices and green room. These spaces will sit vacant if the eviction effort succeeds.
Rialto Theatre Foundation attorneys had been attempting to negotiate a rent deal with the owners of the Rialto Block after they made demands for back rent and exorbitant rental rates on the spaces on June 23.
On Thursday, the Rialto block owners abruptly terminated negotiations and demanded that the Theatre vacate the spaces by July 13 in a letter from their attorney to the Foundation. The Foundation had offered to pay $1,800 a month on a month-to-month lease during a cooling off period while permanent solutions were pursued, but the owners rejected the offer.
The actions of the Rialto Block owners are malicious and vindictive toward the Rialto Theatre and the Tucson community it serves.
Read the July 2 article from the Arizona Daily Star.
Read a Tucson Weekly blog post about this crisis.
Read a full, concise summary of the recent events surrounding the Rialto in the Tucson Weekly.
Why are Martin and Stiteler openly attacking the
Rialto Theatre and trying to cause it harm?
At its June 16 meeting, the Tucson City Council discussed the proposed development agreement from Downtown Tucson Development Company (DTDC), the entity owned by Stiteler and Martin. Among other benefits to the developers, they were seeking $4.3 million in direct taxpayer subsidy for their development plans, including getting options on valuable parcels of land.
The council had many concerns about the agreement, some of which had to do with adequately protecting the Rialto Theatre. The council voted 7-0 that the developers take another three weeks to refine the plan and come back on July 7 for another vote. It was a reasonable request considering the magnitude and complexity of the proposed agreement.
The developers immediately and angrily announced that the deal was dead and said they were walking away from further negotiations. They blamed the Rialto Theatre for “killing” the deal, and Council member Nina Trasoff called the Rialto Theatre “selfish.”
As a result of the City Council’s vote, the Rialto block owners are now striking back at the Theatre in an irrational and harmful manner. It’s not fair, it’s not just and it must not be tolerated by the City of Tucson.
What Can Be Done to Protect the Rialto?
Council member Steve Leal has put an item on Tuesday’s City Council study session agenda. In his July 1 memo to the City Manager, Steve writes:
“I would like the Mayor and Council to consider using our condemnation authority at 320 E. Congress, 316 E. Congress and 211-215 E. Broadway and then contribute the property to the Rio Nuevo Multipurpose Facilities District for the use of the Rialto Theatre Foundation to pursue its mission.
We could borrow the funds from our reserve fund. This can be paid back after we sell the Volvo property. Additionally, we should consider using the remainder of the proceeds to stabilize and develop the Arts Warehouses with WAMO.”
This is the only answer to resolve this nightmare situation.
Any other outcome puts the Rialto Theatre in extreme jeopardy. Forcing the Theatre to move out of its office, lose its green room and storage space will cause irreparable harm to the Theatre’s ability to operate.
Using its power of eminent domain, the City would pay fair market value to the owners for the spaces through a condemnation process, and the Theatre would be able to move forward with planned improvements and continue to successfully operate. The Theatre will pay rent to the Rio Nuevo District, as it currently does under its operating agreement.
Some council members have expressed concern that taking the small amount of property via condemnation will send a negative message to the business community. But we wonder, as members of the Downtown business community ourselves, what is the message being sent if the Theatre isn’t protected? The City must not stand by and let its asset-the Historic Rialto Theatre-be damaged by parties that are actively seeking to destroy a Downtown business that benefits the entire community and directly contributes to the success of other Downtown businesses. Supporting one of Downtown’s only success stories is a pro-business action.
The community has so far invested $2.26 million in the Rialto, and the nonprofit Rialto Theatre Foundation has invested more than $1 million. This is YOUR Theatre that is under attack. The actions by Stiteler and Martin to harm the Rialto Theatre warrant a swift and decisive response by the City Council.
What Can You Do? Plenty!
The best thing you can do to help save the Rialto Theatre is to call and email as many Tucson City Council members as possible with your strong message of support. Do it now!
Three weeks ago, you answered our call and hundreds of you responded in a dramatic show of support.
We thank you for all your efforts and we need you to do it again. We need EVERYONE who cares about the Rialto Theatre to encourage as many people as possible to respond immediately.
The simple message: I support Councilmember Leal’s call for the City of Tucson to acquire the spaces the Rialto Theatre needs and ask you to do the same. The City must protect the Historic Rialto Theatre for the benefit of the entire community.
You should also state why the Rialto Theatre is important to you.
Please consider doing one or more of the following ASAP:
1) Call the Mayor and Council Comment line ASAP at 791-4700 to voice your support for the Rialto Theatre.
2) Directly contact the members of the Tucson City Council via phone or email and request that they support Councilmember Leal’s call for condemnation of the property through eminent domain.
Karin Uhlich, 791-4711, firstname.lastname@example.org
Regina Romero, 791-4040, email@example.com
Steve Leal, 791-4231, firstname.lastname@example.org
Shirley Scott, 791-3100, email@example.com
Nina Trasoff, 791-4601, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rodney Glassman, 791-4687, email@example.com
Mayor Walkup, 791-4201, firstname.lastname@example.org
3) Come to the City Council study session on Tuesday, July 7 at 2 pm and show your support for the Rialto. This is really important!
PLEASE FORWARD THIS EMAIL FAR AND WIDE.