Thirty years after Tracy’s classic movie theater and meeting hall was closed, it will have its grand re-opening tonight as the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts.
It’s a $19 million achievement of building restoration and modern construction, of a partnership of local government and the community and of a marriage of professional and interdisciplinary arts.
It’s an idea born 12 years ago by a local watercolor painting teacher, Ann Langley, and one of her students, Cynthia Souza. Their dream was a building for art classes and for performances — space that was lacking in Tracy. What they and our community have received is a unique 36,000-square-foot center spread over four restored buildings from the early 1900s. It’s more than two performance theaters; it’s nine studios for more than 60 scheduled art classes and storefront galleries.
There is nothing like it in Northern California, and other communities across the U.S. will be studying the success of the Grand Theatre’s dual role as a performance venue and, more importantly, as an education center.
Local government financiers will assess the city of Tracy’s melding of some $18 million in redevelopment bonds (money generated from the value of property from an area stretching from West Valley Mall to the Tracy Municipal Airport) with $1 million raised by the local nonprofit Arts Leadership Alliance. And yes, when the project receives its final acceptance by the city, the full $1 million raised by the Arts Leadership Alliance will be paid into the city’s redevelopment account in accordance with the city-Arts Leadership Alliance agreement.
Downtown planners will gauge the value to the commercial district of a restored building hub and how it, together with an aggressive Streetscape program, can rejuvenate an entire neighborhood.
The list of people who made sure the dream of Langley and Souza became a reality is endless. At the top should be the late Clyde Bland, who, as retired mayor and vice president of the Arts Leadership Alliance, was a liaison between the community volunteers and city government. Without Bland, the project might never have made it off the ground, Langley says. Ellen Gripp, director of the city’s development agency, determined that redevelopment funds could finance the city’s major share of the restoration costs of the Grand Theatre and two adjacent hotel buildings and the old brick Tracy fire station. The Arts Leadership Alliance directors tirelessly found private donors for the project. The names (in one case, the initials) of these contributors will be on theaters, studios, rooms and even seats.
We are very proud of this gift to our community. We urge you to visit it frequently and enjoy the sensory experience of art on many levels.
Leona Dar Willis, secretary of the Arts Leadership Alliance and one of the "Grand Girls" who worked at the movie theater way back when, summed up our hopes when she told us, "My motto is, ‘The Grand will be Grand again!’"