The Hammer Theatre Center in San Jose has been empty since last June, when its previous tenant, the San Jose Repertory Theatre, went bankrupt. The best use the city has found since then for the $27 million complex has been pop-up retail.
But the curtain may rise again this fall if the city approves San Jose State University’s request for a 3-year lease on the complex.
The university wants to use the facility — which is a few blocks from its campus — as a stage for its drama and dance departments, as well as special instructional events, co-productions with other theater companies and to rent to community groups.
“The position we’ve taken is that the university has as much of an interest in the economic and cultural health of downtown as the city does,” San Jose State Dean Lisa Vollendorf says.
That’s a welcome argument for city officials.
“The real loss when a facility like that is dark,” San Jose Cultural Affairs Director Kerry Adams Hapner says. “We have a deficit in the economic impact that all those theater attendees provide to the surrounding area. They’re parking their car, visiting our restaurants, paying for babysitting services.”
But Hapner says the city would still have to provide a $285,000 subsidy to offset the $850,000 to $1 million annual cost of running the theater center.
San Jose State has had just one rival: an ad hoc committee headed by the theater’s namesakes, former Mayor Susan Hammer and her husband Phil, as well as Andrew Bales, President of Symphony Silicon Valley.
The city, Bales says, is conceding a lot to reactivate the theater.
“That is the anxiety we all have about this proposal,” Bales says. “The problem is there isn’t somebody else making a proposal concrete enough for the city to act on.”
Bales says he and the Hammers can live with San Jose leasing the theater to San Jose State, as long as the city and the university work to bring professional theater back to what’s known as “The Blue Box.”
Cultural Affairs Director Hapner says that is the city’s intention.
Dean Vollendorf is more cautious, saying she supports professional theater at the Hammer, but wonders if any single resident company would want to take over the center as a permanent home, after the bankruptcy of San Jose Rep last year.
Hapner will be seeking authority to negotiate the terms of the lease with San Jose State in a series of public meetings, starting this Tuesday evening with the Hammer Theatre Advisory Committee.