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January 23, 2007 > Drive for rebirth of a Fremont icon gains momentum

Drive for rebirth of a Fremont icon gains momentum

Dirk Lorenz, newly elected president of the Centerville Theater Preservation Group, talks about a vision of the future for the Centerville Theater.

TCV: What is your motivation for purchase and restoration of the Center Theater?

Lorenz: We have a great tool that needs to be utilized. Even greater than that, the community at large will be served by a performing arts theater and changing the look of a portion of Fremont Boulevard, changing its surroundings and promoting revitalization from there. Once we do that, this will connect with the Centerville Market Place and Centerville will be a place where people will want to visit.

Early on in our efforts, we put together T-shirts that said, "Put the center back in Centerville." This wasn't just a catchy phrase; there was a thought behind it. The Center Theater was and still is a landmark in Centerville, although it isn't the landmark it once was. It used to have a marquee and neon sign that was a prominent icon as people drove up Fremont Boulevard. I remember as a kid coming back to Centerville and a mile away, looking anxiously for the first sighting of the Centerville sign on the theater. Each letter would turn on individually and then the entire sign would come on together. It was quite a sight!

TCV: How will the theater integrate with the proposed Centerville Market Place?

The Center Theater was the center of Centerville, not necessarily the geographic center, but the center of activity. When speaking with others about those days, it is inevitable that businesses such as the Cloverdale Creamery, Sunrise Bakery and others that surrounded it at one time become part of the conversation. The Center Theater was the meeting point; so much happened in the surrounding area because of that venue. That is one of the reasons we need the theater back. For the same reason, the Centerville Market Place needs the theater.

The proposed square footage at the Centerville Market Place of 60,000 - 70,000 square feet of retail space may seem like a lot, but it is roughly equivalent to a large grocery store that are being built these days. If this space is broken up into restaurants and retail spots, does this represent critical mass? If this development is not viable on its own, it must reach out to the surrounding community and other venues that will enhance what is going on in the marketplace. These venues are directly related to each other. Enter the Center Theater again. The Center Theater can be an anchor and the Centerville Market Place another anchor.

TCV: How would this help revitalize the area?

Lorenz: As an example, there is a public transportation center at the Centerville Depot where ACE (Altamont Commuter Express) and Amtrak come and go every day. Wouldn't it be nice to have a reason for people to get off these trains to spend time in Centerville? People who travel on ACE often form groups that socialize during the commute. When a life event (anniversary, birthday, etc.) occurs, these people often get off the train together at an intermediate stop such as Pleasanton to celebrate before completing their trip. This is not happening in Fremont because the venues are not available! That is just one aspect of how, if we had destinations in Centerville, business would be enhanced. That is just one small example.

Revitalization of the Center Theater will be synergistic. The effects will spread from there. There is a history of this in other cities such as the recently completed Cerrito Speakeasy Theater in El Cerrito. However, as a caveat, if the citizens and staff of our city think that by simply renovating the theater, everything else will automatically fall in line, that may not be true. It could happen over a period of time, but the key to rapid change is to focus not only on the theater, but the land surrounding it as well. Parking needs to be addressed and enhanced lighting and landscaping is critical to a feeling of safety and well-being for visitors.

We may not have the resources to do everything that needs to be done, but we can pick strategic pieces that will serve the end goal. The Centerville Theater, its surroundings and the Center Market Place are among those pieces. Do a good job with these and the change will start. Just as the city views the CBD (Central Business District) in terms of an area encompassing many blocks, the same holds true for Centerville - An area bordered by Thornton Ave., Maple St., Central Ave., Fremont Blvd., Peralta Blvd. to Thornton Ave. again.

TCV: Where do things go from here?

Lorenz: We are currently increasing board level participation and forming an advisory group that is interested in seeing the Centerville Theater become a viable venue for Fremont. For those interested in helping with this effort, please visit or call((510) 468-0284.

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