Randy Pench / rpench@sacbee.com

Alexendra Stoffel won a 2009 consent decree from the city of Sacramento to make room for wheelchairs at the Community Center Theater, but the city still hasn’t fully complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act. A renovation plan would cost $11 million just for the ADA fixes.

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Editorial: Half a loaf on Community Center Theater may not be enough

Published: Wednesday, Apr. 16, 2014 - 6:46 am
Last Modified: Tuesday, Apr. 22, 2014 - 9:36 am

The city has no choice but to improve disabled access to Sacramento’s Community Center Theater.

Beyond that, the City Council faces big decisions about the 40-year-old building’s future as Sacramento’s workhorse arts venue.

There’s certainly a case to be made for doing only what’s necessary to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and keep the doors open, and starting to look at building a brand new performing arts center befitting California’s capital city. The Sacramento Ballet, the Sacramento Opera, the Sacramento Philharmonic and the California Music Theater deserve a first-rate home.

But there’s one big drawback – it doesn’t appear the money is there. The city doesn’t have tens of millions at its disposal, and there’s no sign that wealthy arts lovers will step forward anytime soon, either.

So instead, a half-measure is going before the City Council on Thursday evening. Before moving ahead, however, City Council members ought to ask some tough questions.

For one, is it worth it to sink millions more into the theater so it can be used for the next decade or so, especially when the Mondavi Center at UC Davis and the Harris Center for the Arts at Folsom Lake College still would put it to shame?

The city estimates it would cost $11 million to make the ADA fixes and a few other safety improvements to the existing theater.

City Manager John Shirey and his staff are recommending spending $25.5 million on top of that for some limited enhancements, including more space in the lobby, better restrooms and an improved loading dock. The staff says this option would keep the theater competitive for 10 years and is the “best match” for the funding available. The city has the money for the ADA fixes in hand, and City Treasurer Russ Fehr is working out the details on where to get the rest.

To give the theater another 30 years or so of useful life, it would cost $41.5 million on top of the ADA fixes for a more comprehensive renovation, including replacing the mechanical and electrical systems, upgrading the sound system and adding new “grand tier” seating, a donor’s lounge and concession area.

Building a new center would cost several times that amount.

Councilman Steve Hansen is proposing that the city proceed with the limited, $36.5 million renovation to keep the theater viable and rebuild trust with arts patrons. At the same time, he wants the city to launch a formal planning process on a new arts center to see if it’s at all realistic and to study where it might be built. That approach does make some sense.

Council members don’t have to decide immediately, but the longer they wait, the more they risk an ADA court action. If the council gives the go-ahead for the limited renovation, construction would begin in the summer of 2016, when the theater is less busy, and be complete by the end of 2018.

The theater renovation – studied since 2000 and delayed by city budget crunches – has been put off too long. It’s time for city leaders to set a firm course and stick to it.

Read more articles by the Editorial Board

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