A few months ago, Rene Boisvert was finishing up lunch at a taqueria near Oakland City Hall when the mayor walked in. As Boisvert recalls the story, fellow diners gasped at the presence of Ron Dellums, but Boisvert didn't gawk, even when the mayor sat down next to him. They exchanged glances before the 51-year-old Boisvert got up to leave.
He made it all the way to his car before he decided to turn around. There was something he had to say.
The mayor was eating a bowl of soup when Boisvert approached.
"Mr. Dellums, my name is Rene Boisvert and I'm a board member of the Paramount Theatre. I think you should fire each and every one of us, including myself."
The mayor, startled, put down his spoon and looked up at Boisvert. "Are you saying the place is being mismanaged?"
"Absolutely," the cherubic-faced Boisvert replied.
Dellums paused to digest the information.
"I know the city has a lot of needs because you're many millions of dollars short of balancing your budget," Boisvert continued. "And if this place was run properly, you could pick up at least another million dollars."
Dellums leaned forward. He pointed his finger to his temple and replied, "I hear every single word you're saying."
Boisvert says Dellums had his chief of staff jot down his information, promising that he'd follow up. But in the subsequent weeks, Boisvert says he didn't hear anything. He made phone calls and sent e-mails, but there was no response.
It didn't shock him. He's used to being ignored.
Boisvert, a former concert promoter and current president of Rainy Day Productions, a sports, entertainment, and real estate consultant, has long been the lone dissenter on the nonprofit board that runs the city-owned Paramount Theatre. When he joined the board in September 1998, he was the first member to come recommended by the city, rather than nominated by a colleague. Since then, he's consistently voted against annual budgets, and has advocated for more aggressive bookings, marketing, food and beverage sales, and sponsorship opportunities. Simply put, he believes the Paramount could make a lot more money than it does.
Yet some other board members have resisted Boisvert's suggestions as too risky, far-fetched, or simply impractical. After all, the tightly run nonprofit theater has been self-sufficient since 1999, when the city ended its yearly subsidy. Thanks to its endowment, the Paramount not only has paid for several costly renovations and improvements, but it's also managed to save more than $3.8 million.
Still, the Paramount's future may not be so secure. The aging building is in dire need of a new roof, an exterior paint job, and hazardous materials removal repairs estimated around $1 million. And there's discussion about increasing the depth of the stage to accommodate more Broadway-type shows, plays, and musicals. "Our bottom line being near the break-even level, only a few things have to happen and we could see losses again," says board president Tom Hart.
One thing sure to happen is the opening of the Fox Theater in late 2008. The $58 million renovation of the long-slumbering venue, also a city-owned facility, is raising concerns about competition between the two facilities. The Fox's maximum capacity of more than 3,000 people will be on par with the Paramount's 3,040. The non-union Fox will be operated by a successful concert promoter, Another Planet Entertainment. And, as at the Paramount, all rents and fees paid to the city by the operators of the Fox will be set aside for reinvestment in the maintenance of the theater itself.
The city's stated goal was that creation of a vibrant arts and entertainment district in the Uptown would ultimately pay dividends in property and sales tax revenue. "Our goal as a redevelopment agency is to develop, in this case, the Uptown," said Jeff Chew, the city's project manager. Chew also believes the Fox will eliminate blight and create a safe environment for the residential community currently being constructed in the neighborhood.
The Fox could help usher in a new era in Oakland nightlife. And if the Paramount does suffer in the Fox's wake, at least Boisvert thinks it will be the theater's own fault. "They're going to be taking their profitable shows away from the Paramount and putting them into the Fox," said Boisvert. "And the Paramount's finances are going to go way down. ... Will Another Planet go to the city and say, 'We're kicking butt at the Fox, the Paramount's floundering, can we now oversee the Paramount also?' That's possibly a reality."
Defying the Wrecking Ball