UC Theatre receives $1.3 million grant to finish renovation

Kevin Cheung/Staff

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The UC Theatre announced Tuesday that it received a $1.3 million matching grant to finish its restoration and open in the fall.

The grant will match every dollar donated to the Berkeley Music Group — a nonprofit organization created to renovate and manage the UC Theatre — to completely fund the $5.6 million budget of the project. The funds, awarded by Taube Philanthropies, will be used to finish restructuring the inside of the theater and update the sound system.

The UC Theatre, which is unaffiliated with UC Berkeley, closed in 2001 when a required seismic retrofit proved too expensive. UC Berkeley alumnus David Mayeri proposed to renovate the theater in 2009 and went on to found the Berkeley Music Group. Construction began in the spring, and Mayeri said he hopes that it will be completed by November.

Taube Philanthropies helped fund the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life in Berkeley, and UC Berkeley’s International House.

“Matching grants create incentive, more attention and legitimacy for a project,” said Shana Penn, executive director of Taube Philanthropies. Penn hopes that the UC Theatre can use the organization’s name to raise funds from other sources.

The theater space will be renamed the Taube Family Music Hall at the UC Theatre, and the lobby will be named the Shana Penn Lobby, in honor of Penn.

According to Penn, the foundation usually supports projects in San Francisco and the peninsula but supported the theater because the foundation believes it will help “revitalize” the Downtown Berkeley area.

“(The UC Theatre will) bring in people who are really drawn to music of all kinds from all over the Bay Area,” Penn said.

According to Michael Caplan, the city’s economic development manager, “a lit-up theater marquee is almost a beacon,” and businesses such as the UC Theatre draw people to the city, even if they aren’t planning to see a show.

“The district becomes associated in people’s mind as a cultural district,” Caplan said.

The theater will fit 1,400 people in concert, and the flat-tiered floors can be used for banquet seating or lecture seating, making it a unique size and type of building in the East Bay, according to Mayeri.

The theater will mostly host rock concerts and will also include comedy shows, operas, choirs and symphonies. The venue will likely host its first concerts in the fall and will have an official opening ceremony sometime in 2016.

But some local business owners expressed concerns about the effect of the construction process on their customers.

Tsering Choedup, co-owner of Cafe Tibet, a restaurant a few doors down from the theater, said that for the past four to five months, the construction has involved “a lot of noises” as well as “heaps of pebbles, rocks and sand,” which have both affected customers and passersby, he said.

In the long run, however, Choedup said he is optimistic that the theater will bring people to the area and possibly expand his customer base.

Contact Mira Chaplin at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @mirachaplin.