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Best plan is to connect Sacramento theater, convention center

An artist’s rendering shows a refurbished Community Center Theater and expanded Sacramento Convention Center, viewed from 15th Street.
An artist’s rendering shows a refurbished Community Center Theater and expanded Sacramento Convention Center, viewed from 15th Street. Populous

Rather than building a new performing-arts center on a new site, the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau believes that the real opportunity rests in marrying the hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact produced annually by the Convention Center to the cultural juggernaut that should exist within the walls of the Community Center Theater.

A project that connects the theater and the convention center will erase the theater’s shortcomings, expand the convention center to meet market demand and tie them together with Memorial Auditorium, Wells Fargo Pavilion and surrounding restaurants to create a Convention Center/Theater District.

That’s the comprehensive downtown that so many have envisioned for so many years – K Street anchored on the east and west ends with bustling commerce and entertainment in between.

Suggestions of building a new arts center near Crocker Art Museum or at the downtown railyard are short-sighted solutions that relocate civic assets around the city’s central business district. The idea that refurbishing the current theater would equate to “settling” simply isn’t true.

The Phoenix Symphony Hall, which was built by the same architect as the Community Center Theater, underwent a major renovation in 2004 that transformed the similarly aging facility by connecting it to the nearby convention center. When the project was complete, it was designated a Phoenix “point of pride,” one of 33 attractions that represent the city’s best features for residents and visitors.

However, we’re not solely relying on the Phoenix example to make our argument. Instead, we’re relying on the expertise of acoustic engineers, structural engineers, architects and other consultants who toured Sacramento’s buildings and reviewed our options.

To draw on further expertise, we engaged Kansas City-based architects Populous Group, which designed convention centers in Los Angeles, San Antonio and Sydney, Australia, as well as stadiums including Petco Park in San Diego, and Beijing’s “Bird’s Nest” from the 2008 Olympic Games.

These experts and internationally renowned architects came to a unanimous conclusion: Renovating the Community Center Theater and Convention Center together will capitalize on a central location, supported by decades of infrastructure, to create a thriving district.

A renovated theater will put Sacramento at the forefront of the region’s art venues. The disability access issues will be resolved, the acoustics will be dramatically transformed and there will be realistic opportunities to add amenities such as flexible seating formats.

The Convention & Visitors Bureau believes that fine-tuning our civic investments and combining them with other assets is the best way to build critical mass and create demand for the attractions in which we’ve invested so much public money. It is also the most fiscally responsible plan.

Dismissing the potential of anchor buildings because we don’t like their current aesthetics, and robbing Peter to pay Paul are fiscally irresponsible reactions that won’t create the best return on investments for taxpayers.

Steve Hammond is president and CEO of the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau. He can be contacted at shammond@visitsacramento.com.

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