Public Comment

New: Proposal for a Performing Arts Center in Harold Way Plaza

Jennifer Boesing, Producing Artistic Director, Youth Musical Theater Company; Mark Streshinksy, General Director, West Edge Opera; Ilona McHugh, Artistic Director, Berkeley Ballet
Tuesday April 14, 2015 - 10:21:00 AM

Editor's Note: This proposal was handed out at the April 7 Berkeley City Council meeting.

A performing arts center in the heart of the downtown district would thrive and create a lasting gift to the people of Berkeley. As the Artistic Directors of deep-rooted and thriving Berkeley based performing arts companies, we know how much our community loves to both go to and be in live performances. We represent many disciplines, including theater, music and dance. We serve audiences from all of the Bay Area, we educate young people, and we bring thousands of people to our performances every year. But as much as our community loves what we do, we do not have an adequate, affordable space in Berkeley for our resident companies to perform.

0ur proposal is for the construction of a 400 seat performing arts center on the lower floor of the Harold Way project. In addition to the theater, there would be space for a several state of the art movie theaters, which could be run by Landmark films, or another independent operator. The City would own the performing arts venue and lease it to a non-profit, which would be responsible for the running of the performing arts venue. There would be two separate but compatible entities within the space, one for running the movie theaters and one for running the performing arts venue. The two would share restrooms and lobby space but would otherwise be independent operators. 

A common organizational model for performing arts venues such as we are proposing is for a consortium of representatives from each of the anchor tenant arts organizations to form a non- profit to operate the venue. The board of this non-profit would hire a small staff who would be responsible for day-to-day operations, including booking and running the live theater venue. 

The anchor tenants would be the Resident Companies of the center— companies that have longer term rental periods and would be committed to a minimum number of weeks every year. These groups are professionally managed, are fiscally stable and have been in the community for between ten and thirty years. These groups all routinely sign leases to rent space at competitive rates for performance spaces outside of Berkeley, and between those currently committed, would fill up close to half the calendar year. 

The groups expressing interest in Anchor Tenancy include: 


  • Youth Musical Theater Company
  • West Edge Opera
  • Berkeley Ballet
The groups who have expressed interest in shorter-term rentals include: 



  • Destiny Arts
  • Young People’s Symphony Orchestra
  • Shawl-Anderson Dance Center
  • Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra
  • Prometheus Orchestra
  • Danse Lumiere
  • Awesöme Orchestra Collective
  • Lyz Luke, Undercover Presents
All of these groups produce sell-out shows to thousands of theater goers throughout the year, draw a captive audience that represent the loyal followers of the company as well as family, classmates, grandparents, and neighbors of the performers who come from a wide range of Berkeley and Bay Area families with diverse artistic interests and backgrounds. These audiences all in one place would bring together Berkeley’s diverse cultures throughout the year to celebrate the arts, our local youth, and generate community ties that unite generations and neighbors. 


Additionally, we anticipate that the space could be used for speaker series and spoken word events, and these kinds of events would add to the diversity of the audiences coming to Downtown Berkeley. 

Assuming the city owns the space and rents it to the non-profit at cost, we anticipate the yearly operating budget would be approximately $250,000 per year. Based on rentals comparable to similar theaters in the surrounding environs, we believe we would be able to meet this budget from rental of the facility to those organizations who have already expressed interest, and the Berkeley Performing Arts Center would be fiscally self-sufficient. 

Every one of us believes in the City of Berkeley’s commitment, expressed in the downtown plan, to make Downtown Berkeley a home for arts and education. We applaud it. And we are asking the City Council to live up to this commitment. The Berkeley Plaza Development presents an opportunity to create a Berkeley Performing Arts Center, and we are asking the City Council to seize that opportunity.