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Theater groups may revive performing arts center

Downtown theater operators want to reopen the shuttered Tucson Center for the Performing Arts on Sixth Avenue at 14th Street.

Numerous structural deficiencies led its closure in 1999, but theater leaders see the structure, also known as the Cursillo, as an ideal venue of emerging theater groups.

“The TCPA is something we drool over,” said Theresa Ruiz, president of the El Rio Performing Arts Guild, which started performing Shakespeare plays at Himmel Park last year. “The TCPA is one of our biggest hopes.”

Managers of all the prominent downtown theater facilities met for the second time last week as the downtown performing arts facilities management working group. They are looking for ways to operate more efficiently and make better use of downtown theaters, many owned by the city.

The informal group on Thursday recommended finding funding – perhaps federal Community Development Block Grant or federal economic stimulus funds – to repair structural problems and refurbish the interior as a theater setting.

The Cursillo was shut down in 1999 for a variety of structural safety issues, including a crack found in an interior arch and the building having no foundation. Since then, a concrete foundation was installed for $668,000. Architect Corky Poster estimates another $1.9 million is needed to make it a “first-class facility.”

The group agreed the Cursillo, with a maximum seating capacity of about 150 to 200, would be an ideal venue for emerging theater companies. The theater operators noted that all their venues – including the Leo Rich Theatre, the Fox Theatre, the Rialto Theatre, the Temple of Music and Art and the Tucson Music Hall – are too large for small theater companies.

“The Cursillo is a nice size,” said Andy Holtz, general manager of the Arizona Theatre Company, which operates the city-owned Temple of Music and Art.

ATC also operated the Tucson Center for the Performing Arts from 1992 to 1999 as it was used by emerging theater groups. The city’s Parks and Recreation Department manages the Cursillo now.

“We’d be more that happy to manage it (if the Cursillo reopens),” Holtz said.

Jim Cook, a former general manager at ATC and the Cursillo, early this year convened this working group.

“A few thousand dollars here, a few thousand dollars there, it should be operable?” he said.

“Yes,” Poster answered. “In my opinion, (Cursillo could be reopened) in a range of $500,000 to $1.9 million, depending on how good you want. The bottom number is a safe number, not a functional one.”

Poster defined “safe” as adequate for a certificate of occupancy but not including niceties like dressing rooms and other theater features. The half-million figure would fund roof repair, Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and some utilities, Poster said.

The building started life as the All Saints Church in 1910, burned down and was rebuilt and remained a church until the early 1980s, when theater groups started to use the building, Poster said.

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