After 42 years seeking a permanent home, local professional theater company TheatreWorks may finally find one, thanks to John Arrillaga’s proposal to build a theatre and office complex on University land in downtown Palo Alto.
While the project’s proposal is still under development — and no current formal documentation exists — Steve Emslie, Palo Alto deputy city manager, said that concept plans could be presented to the City Council in a month.
The Council previously authorized the hiring of consultants to further explore the proposal.
Any revenue from the office spaces proposed for Stanford land would go directly to the University.
Jean McCown, Stanford director of community relations, wrote in an email to The Daily that while Stanford has not been involved in the development of the proposal, the University supports the exploration currently taking place.
“It is an intriguing project for the property adjacent to the University Avenue Caltrain station in Palo Alto, which is owned by Stanford,” McCown wrote. “The University is pleased that the City of Palo Alto will be giving this proposal its thoughtful and constructive consideration.”
According to Emslie, the current proposal includes an office building at about 200,000 square feet, a retail center at about 20,000 to 50,000 square feet and a performing arts center with a capacity of 600, all of which will be at 27 University Ave.
Though Arrillaga initially proposed the project in downtown Palo Alto as a way to better use the land adjacent to the Caltrain station, the City Council shaped the idea for a performing arts center.
“One of our premiere dramatic companies, TheatreWorks, has been in need of a permanent home,” Emslie said. “It would provide stability to that organization and it would provide a regional, cultural destination for Palo Alto.”
TheatreWorks — which employs a staff of 45 — is the third-largest professional theater company in the Bay Area. The company’s roots date back to 1970, and the company puts on an average of 250 to 260 performances a year.
Robert Kelley ‘68, TheatreWorks’ artistic director, said that the company is currently involved in articulating its needs for the theater complex.
Concerns include the incorporation of general necessities, such as a large auditorium and a fly loft to move scenery around on stage. Because of TheatreWorks’s educational activities, a costume shop and classrooms would be needed along with some office space to coordinate operations.
For Kelley, the proposal would play a significant role in strengthening ties between Stanford and Palo Alto, in addition to giving TheaterWorks much-needed logistical support.
“The idea of a free flow of people between Stanford and Palo Alto and Palo Alto and Stanford, based essentially on an appreciation for the arts of all kinds, I find to be downright thrilling,” Kelley said.
Emslie said that creating a better bicycle and pedestrian connection between downtown Palo Alto and University facilities — including the Stanford Shopping Center, the Stanford Hospital and the main campus — is another main focus within the proposal.
Kelley said that the chosen location would further add to this focus.
“There’s so many different transit operations that intersect right at that particular spot, on a very complex pattern of traffic moving on El Camino into Palo Alto and into Stanford,” Kelley said.
Palo Alto Vice Mayor Greg Scharff, Emslie and Kelley all spoke of the significance such a project would have for Palo Alto as a city in strengthening its connection with its next-door neighbor.
“It’s not just a possibility as far as the buildings are concerned but also an opportunity as far as the greater community is concerned, to make that area into something really special and something that unites Stanford and Palo Alto in a practical way,” Kelley said.