Lezlie Sterling / Bee file

The Community Center Theater in 2011, during a performance of the Sacramento Ballet's "Nutcracker."

City votes for task force to study building new Sacramento performing arts venue

Published: Thursday, Apr. 17, 2014 - 10:26 pm
Last Modified: Tuesday, Apr. 22, 2014 - 9:36 am

Sacramento’s City Councilvoted Thursday night to create a task force to examine the possibility of building a major new performing arts venue to replace downtown’s aging Community Center Theater – a 2,500-seat space that hosts ballet, musical theater and orchestra performances.

The ambitious plan comes weeks before the City Council is expected to devote $258 million in public funds to a new basketball arena at Downtown Plaza.

“I want the public to know … everyone on this dais is fully supportive of making sure we enhance our arts community,” Mayor Kevin Johnson said in voting for the task force plan. “You cannot have a great city without great arts.”

Johnson, a former NBA player who on Wednesday became president of the United States Conference of Mayors, led the charge for the planned arena.

At Thursday’s meeting, the council was expected to vote on approving one of three multimillion-dollar plans to renovate the Community Center Theater, at L and 13th streets, across from Capitol Park and and adjacent to the Sacramento Convention Center.

But council members said before they invested so heavily in the 1970s concrete structure, which needs at least $11 million in upgrades to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, they wanted to look at the feasibility of building a new venue to compete with the Mondavi Center at UC Davis and the Harris Center for the Arts at Folsom Lake College, both newer concert halls.

“There are a lot of people who believe we can do better than this facility” said Councilman Steve Hansen of the Community Center Theater. Hansen proposed the task force, which will be composed of stakeholders in the plan and must report back to the council on its findings in six months.

At the same time, architects will begin drawing up construction plans for the $11 million upgrade to address the ADA issues, including seating access and dressing rooms, and a $36.5 million option that would include doubling the number of restroom facilities, refurbishing the seating and expanding lobbies.

The plans could keep the Community Center Theater functional for at least 10 years, staff said. It hosts regular performances of the Sacramento Ballet, Sacramento Opera, Sacramento Philharmonic, California Musical Theatre and others attended by more than 250,000 ticket holders each year.

Officials have been talking about renovation plans for the past 14 years, but little has changed since the theater opened in 1976, a staff report said.

“Without renovation, the theater could be in jeopardy of losing the ability to provide a quality venue for long-standing performing arts groups and compete for market share with other performing arts venues in the Sacramento region,” the staff report read.

A third rehabilitation option, estimated to cost $52.5 million, would involve a major expansion and renovation of the existing facility to bring it up to modern standards.

That could still happen, but before it does council members wanted to look at how much a new arts center might cost and explore options for funding it.

Where the money will come from remains a major question.

Daniel Conway, Johnson’s chief of staff, said new construction could be funded by donations from wealthy arts patrons or corporations.

“The assumption is we would need a significant portion of private funding,” Conway said.

City staff said about $11.5 million, enough to pay for the needed ADA upgrades, is available from several city sources. Ticket fees, hotel taxes and convention center fees could help pay back $25 million in loans for the $36.5 million option, they said in a report to the council.

Before they went that route, the mayor and other council members wanted to see if they could do better, Conway said. The success of the arena plan gave officials new confidence to at least consider a more ambitious proposal.

“I think it’s made people believe in a way they didn’t in the past,” he said. “We have momentum and confidence we didn’t have two years ago. Our city deserves world-class amenities.”

Call The Bee’s Hudson Sangree, (916) 321-1191.

Read more articles by Hudson Sangree

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