New music venue construction kicks off at UC Theatre

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Ashish Samaddar/Staff

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A nonprofit group held a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday morning to kick off renovations to the UC Theatre, which will be turned into a live music venue with an emphasis on serving the community.

David Mayeri, president of the nonprofit organization Berkeley Music Group, created to renovate and run the UC Theatre, said the venue’s core programming will consist of musical acts. He said the theater will also house film screenings, comedy shows and community-oriented programming, such as choir and opera recitals.

The UC Theatre, located at 2036 University Ave., is set to reopen fall 2015. The completed venue will also provide educational programs to teach young adults ages 17-25 the technical and business aspects of event promotion through hands-on workshops and internships.

The UC Theatre was built in 1917 as the film industry began to flourish in the United States. In 2001, the theater closed when it required seismic retrofitting that the owning company Landmark Theaters could not afford. The UC Theatre was designated a Berkeley historical landmark in 2002.

“It was such an incredible community treasure and … it’s been shuttered all these years,” said Nancy Skinner, a former state Assembly member and member of the project’s “Turn On the Lights” capital campaign, at the ceremony.

The renovations to the theater include replacing the sloped floors with tiers, as well as fitting the auditorium with a new sound system and a full-service restaurant and bar. Though the project to renovate the UC Theatre started in 2009 as a for-profit venture, Mayeri said the team ultimately decided to create a nonprofit organization in 2012.

Michael Caplan, the city’s economic development manager, said that the UC Theatre’s marquee serves as a “beacon of the arts district” when entering Downtown Berkeley.

“Seeing this theater revitalized, reanimated — I think it will be a huge boost in civic pride,” Caplan said at the groundbreaking ceremony, adding that the project will create 150 full- and part-time jobs and training opportunities when the venue opens.

John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, said at the ceremony that the theater’s opening in the fall will mark the beginning of Downtown Berkeley’s revitalization.

In the first year, Mayeri expects the UC Theatre will bring 120,000 people into Downtown Berkeley, and said the nonprofit has received hundreds of donations from the community.

“The support for this project again — working on it for six years — has been amazing,” Mayeri said. “This has been a project that has been embraced by the whole community.”

Contact Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @ayoonhendricks.