Tony Award-winning producer Jonathan Reinis is weighing a full-scale performing arts center at the unoccupied UC Theatre on the 2000 block of University Avenue in downtown Berkeley.
“I think it would be a great asset to the city,” said Reinis, a 35-year resident of Berkeley who currently operates “Theatre on the Square” in San Francisco.
Reinis, whose 20-year lease on “Theatre on the Square” will expire at the end of the year, said he wants to turn his attention to Berkeley where he envisions a completely remodeled UC Theatre that would play host to drama, dance, symphony, opera and film.
Reinis cautioned that the idea is “very preliminary” and said he has not yet worked through the financial details. But he said he has the resources to contribute to the multi-million dollar seismic retrofit that the vacant theater requires before it can be put back into use.
City Councilmember Linda Maio said she met with Reinis at the city manager’s office last week to discuss the possibility of public funding for a new performing arts center.
“We still need to look and see how it works financially,” Maio cautioned. “But I think it’s quite possible.”
Maio said she is “delighted” with the idea of a full-scale performing arts facility in Berkeley.
The 1,300-seat theater, long beloved as a repertory cinema, closed its doors in March 2001 in the face of economic difficulties.
In recent months, theater owner Pacific Bay Investments has proposed dividing up the space into several small performance spaces for use by local cultural groups.
But UC Theatre managing partner Igal Sarfaty said he has put the plan on hold while Reinis explores the performing arts center idea.
“We’d like to see how serious he is,” Sarfaty said. “If not, we will see what we’re going to do.”
Reinis’ wife, Hillary, said it is too early to say whether Reinis would enter into a partnership with Pacific Bay Investments or buy the theater outright.
The Berkeley Symphony, which currently holds concerts at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall and the Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda venue, has expressed interest in a performing arts center for months.
But Katherine Barker-Henwood, executive director of the symphony, said her organization does not have the resources to upgrade the UC Theatre on its own.
Reinis, who is leaving San Francisco because of a hefty rent hike, said the UC Theatre requires new seats, a new stage, an expanded lobby, and a better electrical system, among other things.
A fully-functioning performing arts center, he said, would bring Berkeley up to par with the rest of the state.
“Every major city in the state of California has a performing arts center,” he said. “It’s kind of unusual that a city like Berkeley, a tremendous supporter of the arts, doesn’t have its own performing arts center.”
Reinis said he is “very excited” about the possibility of bringing such a facility to his home town.