Sacramento’s B Street Theatre Breaks Ground on many levels.

Originally written by Ellen Garrison and Marcus Crowder for the Sacramento Bee

B Street Theatre will break ground later this month on a new $29 million complex – the product of 11 years of fundraising and planning to move one of the region’s premier arts organizations from the edge of midtown to a roomier, more prominent location on Capitol Avenue.  Bill Blake, B Street’s managing director, said construction is tentatively scheduled to begin May 19 for the new theater at 27th Street and Capitol Avenue. The City Council is expected to vote Tuesday night to finalize loan agreements with the theater and other lenders.

“At long last, we are in the final stages of closing the deal,” Blake said. B Street expects construction to take about 18 months, so the new stages could open in November or December 2017.

The city is kicking in a $3 million forgivable loan, which the City Council voted to boost from $2.5 million in December. In exchange, B Street agreed to hold performances at two schools in each council district, along with two “at-large” schools every year for 20 years.  The city is one of the smaller partners in the project. According to a city staff report, the B Street staff cobbled together a $28.85 million financing plan that includes $12 million in bonds from Five Star Bank and the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank, land from Sutter Health valued at $6 million, and $8.3 million in private cash donations and pledges.

In December, an unidentified sponsor signed up to pay $3 million for the naming rights to the new building.  We never stopped working for it or believing the community would support the project of having a large venue for children’s programming.  B Street Theatre co-founder Buck Busfield said.

B Street has been working to put together the funds for the project since Sutter donated the land in 2005 as part of its nearby hospital expansion project. The new theater has been redesigned over the years to a relatively modest complex with two stages. At one point, a plan was floated to build 100 condominium units above the theater to help finance the project.

“All of the professionals who are working to bring the deal together say, ‘This is a creative and not standard deal,’ ” Blake said. “It’s complicated even for them.” By coincidence, the B Street item will come before the City Council on the same night as the presentation and potential approval of contracts to start finalizing a concept and construction schedule for renovating Community Center Theater at 13th and L streets.

City Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents downtown and midtown, said this is a big moment in the history of Sacramento’s theater scene. After the deal to build a new Kings arena downtown was finished in 2013, he said, council members pushed more funding for local arts projects, including B Street and the performing arts center in the old Fremont Adult School.

Three years later, he said, the city and the community are seeing those projects get accomplished.

“What a transformative experience it will be to have the new theater on Capitol Avenue,” Hansen said. “It couldn’t come soon enough – the project was first contemplated over a decade ago. B Street is the little theater that could.”

B Street Theatre began as a touring theater for children over 25 years ago and is Northern California’s only fully professional resident theater for children. In its current playhouse on B Street, two theaters house its Mainstage, B3 and Family Series programs, which produce 19 shows and sell an average of 95,000 tickets per year.

Co-founder Buck Busfield said the new space will give B Street the opportunity to offer more variety in programming for kids and families.

“It’s been a while – 11 years,” Busfield said. “We never stopped working for it or believing the community would support the project of having a large venue for children’s programming. We’re not surprised, but we’re a little bit short of breath as we’re getting close to crossing the first finish line.”

The Family Series puts on 12 shows a week, eight of which are designated for school field trips. B Street also has a school tour, which travels to 12 counties across Northern California. Teaching artists lead playwriting workshops and theater-based after-school programs for schools and other organizations.

“It’s a critical thing beyond reading, writing and math,” Hansen said. “We have to expose kids to these cultural experiences that help them know about their own potential.”

The new theater complex will include the 365-seat Sutter Children’s Theatre, which will host the Family Series and B3 series as well as concerts, speakers and other community events. The 250-seat Mainstage Theatre will feature a thrust stage, giving performances a more intimate feel as patrons get to sit around three sides of the stage. B Street has estimated that the new complex would be able to serve about 35,000 more children and families than the current home can manage.

The Bee’s Ryan Lillis contributed to this report.
Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison






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