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July 15, 2009 > Editorial: Center Theater takes center stage

Editorial: Center Theater takes center stage

Centerville is again in the sights of the Fremont Redevelopment Agency. This time, however, there is a glimmer of hope that the city council has sharpened its own redevelopment pencil. Councilmembers may now realize that a visionary approach to Centerville is to develop from within the core of this historic district. Revitalization of the Center Theater using the imaginative VenueTech Management Group proposal in concert with the Center Theater Preservation Group makes sense as a catalyst for growth and prosperity.

Using the Center Theater as a fine arts incubator and flexible performance venue will radiate growth outward rather than force another housing project with a meager retail component on the Unified Site into the mix. Rejuvenating the old firehouse across the street from the theater is a good idea but as a separate venue for arts-related activities such as a jazz club or art gallery. These sparks of vitality will enhance and motivate private ventures to flourish, transform and concentrate pedestrian-friendly shopping and dining ventures.

It is time to let the sad tale of woe that has dogged the Unified Site rest for a bit. Blake Hunt Ventures returns again with different partner for another Exclusive Right to Negotiate using a formulaic retread of housing and limited retail space. This will do little to invigorate Centerville and may prove to be an irreversible design flaw as energy from the Center Theater transforms the district. Concepts for the Unified Site have gyrated wildly from supermarkets to total retail to mixed use, housing and work/live lofts. Each project has faced its own set of obstacles and transformations without a quality resolution. It is time to focus on an existing building - the Center Theater - with a defined purpose and community support rather than another attempt to simply fill space.

Fremont city councilmembers are currently pondering the future of Fremont in discussions of an updated General Plan. This is a critical juncture for that future. A conservative attitude toward development of the Unified Site combined with an aggressive approach to a Center for Theatre Arts is the right formula for Centerville. This will also provide an action template for other historic districts. Success in Centerville will lead the way to more fruitful activity in Niles, Mission San Jose, Irvington and Warm Springs.

Redevelopment has proven they can fund housing projects but fails to understand that they have a much broader mandate. So far, comprehensive redevelopment actions have been ineffective and obstructive. It is time for the mayor and council to steer these folks from a path of mediocrity and complacency and take the reins. Mayor Wasserman began this process when he demanded - in spite of weak protestations from staff - a Center Theater progress report prior to the summer council break. This is the type of leadership necessary to make the Center Theater project a reality. A staff presentation due at the Fremont City Council meeting on July 21st should result in affirmative action by council.

"Que Sera, Sera" has run its course. Fremont can and should take charge to shape its future without fear. Let the citizens and art community have a chance to determine the fate of the Center Theater using the VenueTech model.

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