Multi-million-dollar renovation of Grass Valley’s Center for the Arts gets underway |

Multi-million-dollar renovation of Grass Valley’s Center for the Arts gets underway

Amber Jo Manuel, Executive Director of the Center for the Arts, speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday, flanked by an artist rendering of the planned renovation.
Photo by John Hart/For The Union

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What: The Center for the Arts

Where: 314 West Main St., Grass Valley

For more info: Call Highlights info row image

(530) 274-8384, go to the The Center for the Arts Facebook page or online at or

It’s been 18 months in the making — but Grass Valley’s The Center for the Arts is ready to start its multi-million dollar renovation.

On Tuesday, the center hosted a ceremonial ground-breaking in the back parking lot attended by many of those involved with the project.

“I’m incredibly proud of everybody here,” Executive Director Amber Jo Manuel said. “Look what we did!”

The renovation will usher in a new era of cultural and artistic growth for the city, she said.

And, of course, it addresses critically needed repairs including a leaking roof and outdated electrical systems, Manuel said, jokingly referencing a urinal fountain “exploding” over the weekend.

“No one was injured,” she said.

The center will shutter its doors for an estimated six to eight months while the facility is renovated and expanded. But the programming will go on, thanks to “Center OnTheGo,” with shows being held at a variety of other venues in town such as the Veterans Memorial Auditorium, Grass Valley Elks Lodge, the Foothills Event Center and the Don Baggett Theater at Nevada Union High School.

A “Second Sunday Luminary Series” will kick off during “OnTheGo,” beginning with Terry Riley.

“We are currently figuring out our drop-dead demolition day,” Manuel said, estimating that should happen at the end of June with a reopening date in the spring of 2019.

The highlight of the renovation will be an entirely new Main Stage Theatre, which will rotate from its current location to the back wall of the building, which will be pushed 20 feet out into what currently is a rear parking lot.

“There will be less distraction for the artists on stage,” Manuel said.

Some parking will be lost, she said, but the center will run a parking shuttle from Peace Lutheran Church for sold-out shows.

The seating will increase from a total capacity of 310 to 492, with a flexible floor plan to allow the center to book more diverse events such as cabaret nights, banquets and comedy shows.

The center will now have two green rooms, for headliners and opening acts, that will no longer be right off the lobby or right next to the restrooms. And those restrooms will be expanded and renovated as well with nine stalls in the women’s restroom, said Manuel.

The expanded lobby will feature a 23-foot bar, and there will be upgrades to the center’s accessibility for those with disabilities with ramps at the front entrance and accessible seating, along with a state-of-the-art assistive hearing device system. The center will lose its office space, Manuel said. Staff will be temporarily housed at City Hall and will remain off site even after the center re-opens.

Manuel is particularly excited about the “world-class” sound system partially funded by Berkeley-based Meyer Sound, who created the Grateful Dead’s famous “Wall of Sound.”

During the ground-breaking ceremony, Manuel said the center is a long way from reaching the needed funding with $1.5 million raised of the $4.3 million price tag.

A public campaign will be launched in the next few weeks that will offer patrons the opportunity to name seats in the theater, buy plaques and even have their names included in a mural planned for the outside back wall, she said.

“Let’s imagine, a little bit, what it means” to renovate the center, she said, urging the audience to imagine after-school workshops, matinee shows, artist in residency programs, touring visual arts exhibits — as well as a roof that doesn’t leak in the winter and an air conditioner that doesn’t conk out in July.

Former executive director Julie Baker, who was instrumental in hiring Manuel before leaving The Center for the Arts, said she realized she did not have the energy to shepherd the renovation and praised her successor for her experience, desire and energy to make it happen.

Others who spoke, including board president Betsy Swann Brown, Lance Amaral — who is donating space at 988 Plaza Drive for a temporary 100-seat performance venue — and Grass Valley Mayor Howard Levine, spoke of the vision, dedication and hard work that created the arts center and kept it going through the last two decades.

“The heartbeat of Grass Valley is at the center,” Levine said.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at

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