Plans proceed to renovate Community Center Theater, expand convention center

A conceptual design shows what a renovated Community Center Theater in downtown Sacramento might look like.
A conceptual design shows what a renovated Community Center Theater in downtown Sacramento might look like. Westlake Reed Leskosky

Design work will start on the renovation of Sacramento’s Community Center Theater and neighboring convention center after the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to move forward on the project.

In the fall, a team of design firms and architects will return to the council with a concept and construction schedule for renovating the theater, connecting it to the convention center and expanding the capacity of the center.

The final product will be a 2,400-seat theater with new floors, seats, and glass and steel exterior walls. Lighting, acoustics and disability access will be upgraded.

“For those who think we’re putting lipstick on a pig with the theater, I beg to differ,” City Manager John Shirey said. This project and the arena project will bookend the K Street Mall, he said, and provide anchors for an entertainment district.

It’s been more than a decade since the city first started talking about what to do with the 42-year-old theater facility at 13th and L streets. There was talk of tearing it down and erecting a new building elsewhere, but no funding was found for that idea.

Similarly, the convention center hasn’t seen any major improvements for 20 years. A report compiled for the city by market analysts Convention, Sports & Leisure warned that cities that compete with Sacramento for conventions are expanding their convention centers and Sacramento’s facility risks losing clients.

Councilman Steve Hansen said bundling the two projects together is a win-win for downtown. The goal, he said, is to come up with a renovation plan that creates a theater for the next generation.

“We will leave a huge legacy here with this opportunity,” he said.

A majority of residents spoke in favor of passing the plan, but a couple of speakers emphasized that the expansion of the convention center should not be overshadowed by renovation of the theater. Several representatives of business organizations said both facilities bolster economic activity downtown.

Councilman Jay Schenirer said he thinks the theater renovation needs to be completed, but requested that staff come back with descriptions of what can be done in the convention center in increments of $20 million.

City staff envisions a $200 million project funded primarily by hotel tax revenue. Schenirer said he would like staff to explore if an affordable housing fund could be created out of the same revenue source.

The B Street Theatre item on the consent calendar was continued until next week pending minor language changes in the loan agreements.

Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison

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