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November 5, 2008 > A regional home for the performing arts

A regional home for the performing arts

Used and misused, the venerable Center Theater in Fremont has survived incarnations as a small town movie theater and ethnic venue. Not only has the theater's name been a matter of perspective, but its interior design has undergone changes that have altered function and capacity. The iconic frontage on Fremont Boulevard has endured throughout these transformations although battered by a series of owners that often paid little or no attention to permits and ordinances. With its prominent location, the Center Theater may define the future of not only Centerville, but clarify City of Fremont Redevelopment Agency commitment and effort toward other historic districts in Fremont as well.

A combination of factors has brought the Center Theater to a position of interest for a redevelopment strategy for the Centerville District. The theater property includes dilapidated and uninhabitable apartments, two small commercial units and the theater itself. The movie house and adjoining apartments have been under almost constant review for repeated violations of city codes. Continued underutilization of the theater along with its possible role as a spark to redevelopment efforts in Centerville has created community interest in restoration and/or altered use of the site.

A civic group called "Center Theater Preservation Committee" has been working with consultant, VenuTech Management Group, Inc. under a segmented three year Fremont Redevelopment Agency grant to explore the feasibility, purchase and revitalization of the Center Theater. The first year of the contract was approved at a meeting of the Fremont Redevelopment Agency on June 26, 2007 in one year segments conditioned on a series of milestones. Although more than a year has passed since this initial discussion and approval, as of this date, the Fremont Redevelopment Agency has failed to publicly review or discuss the contract. The committee and its consultant have submitted a business plan in accordance with the terms of the one year funding plan and continue their efforts even though the agency has remained silent on the reappearance of the issue on a council/agency agenda.

A fresh look at the site has resulted in a plan of action that not only promises new life to the theater, but a boost to redevelopment efforts in Centerville and resurrection of the building as a regional fine arts facility. Chair of the preservation committee, Dirk Lorenz said that thoughts of a regional fine arts venue have spurred the group to understand that the future of the Center Theater must be "more than just a renovated movie theater." A paradigm shift created a plan for a cultural arts resource center. Now in its eighth year of consideration, Lorenz cites the present concept as different from the initial idea of a multiuse movie theater with a broad proscenium and expanded green room facilities. This iteration envisions the theater as more than just a performing arts venue. The Center Theater would evolve into a multi-use theater plus offices for partner organizations, practice facilities and storage space. "Primary Partners" would share in operations, rather than simply rent space.

Lorenz notes that feedback from redevelopment agency staff is favorable and prospective primary partners in the endeavor are enthusiastic. Primary Partners may include organizations such as Fremont Opera, Fremont Symphony, Stage 1 Theatre, Star Stuck Theatre, Niles Film Museum and Fremont Cultural Arts Council among others. Following a successful presentation to and approval by the Fremont Redevelopment Agency toward a budget and acquisition of the theater, the present Center Theater Preservation Committee Board would dissolve and be replaced by a board composed of members of the primary partners. An endowment fund would be established to assure operations and relieve the primary partners of the constant struggle and expense to secure venues for their presentations, storage for materials and practice spaces.

The renovated theater would be able to accommodate an audience of 375 to 500 people. Restoration would be complete including restoration of the marquee to its original design and all aspects of the building including bathrooms, entry and theater. A flexible 40'x40'modular stage and ceiling grid lighting and sound system will allow many configurations to accommodate different types of entertainment. The building will be extended by 10,000 square feet in two floors at the rear for offices, training spaces, scene shop, storage and rehearsal space. In fact, Lorenz said that the symphony orchestra could actually practice in the rehearsal hall during a performance by another organization in the theater without one disturbing the other. A major advantage for the renovated facility will be as a resource center where those interested in theatre production can visit and participate in onsite activities.

This visionary approach to a misused and blighted part of the Centerville District is a redevelopment opportunity that should not be missed, said Lorenz. "I am in this because it represents economic development." It is now up to the Fremont Redevelopment Agency to deliver on its promise to the city and region. "My vision," said Lorenz "is an arts corridor which will develop along Fremont Boulevard as has been proven in other cities such as Pleasanton, Livermore, Walnut Creek and other cities." Once the theater is in place, businesses and pedestrians will come. "It's a no-brainer."

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