California Forum

Renovating Sacramento’s theater is the best option

An artist’s rendering shows a refurbished Community Center Theater.
An artist’s rendering shows a refurbished Community Center Theater. WRL Design

Like Rob Turner, I had the honor to serve on the mayor’s task force exploring the possibility of building a new performance arts theater in Sacramento. Unlike Turner, I served on the financial committee with three distinguished leaders of our community. By the end of the yearlong process, we could find no path to raising the money required to build a new facility (“Refurbishing theater a terrible deal for the city”; Forum, Jan. 31).

After careful evaluation, a number of us came to see all of the proposed new sites as deeply flawed, so I returned my attention to the prospect of transforming our existing Community Center Theater. It is ideally located adjacent to the Convention Center and surrounded by the hotels and restaurants that depend on its patrons.

Learning that the city of Phoenix has a performing arts theater designed by the same architect as ours, I recently visited and found that the city had renovated its facility, attaching it elegantly to their convention center and characterizing it now as a world-class home for their symphony and other performing organizations.

Phoenix officials are planning to retrofit their beautiful “new” theater with the latest acoustic technology being used in renovated halls all over the world. They learned from architects and contractors that their building had “good bones” and that the infrastructure did not have to be abandoned to achieve a dramatically different interior and exterior aesthetic.

We have now learned that the same is true of our building, and we have the same potential for a similar transformation at less than a third the cost of a new theater.

Current plans call for dramatically upgrading our building’s exterior, ultimately rivaling the regional Mondavi and Harris theaters and potentially achieving the iconic presence we sought when exploring the idea of a new theater. The lobby will be expanded – adding several dozen restrooms – to create a stunning new and elegant interior.

New seating will be installed, and the venue’s acoustics will be significantly overhauled, employing state-of-the-art technology. The backstage area will be completely revamped, including additional dressing rooms, and technical capabilities will be upgraded to accommodate production demands well into the future.

Let’s move now to reimagine an old friend into an iconic structure in a signature location and avoid the mounting costs of continued delay.

Dennis Mangers, who was on the mayor’s task force, is a former assemblyman, elementary school principal, political adviser and longtime arts advocate.