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Yates Theater the Focus of Heated License Hearing

The interior of the Yates Theater.EXPAND
The interior of the Yates Theater.
Jon Solomon
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An attempt to turn the now vacant Yates Theater — a circa 1920s movie house at West 44th Avenue and Yates Street — into a music venue met some opposition from residents of the Berkeley neighborhood at a six-hour liquor and cabaret license hearing on Thursday, June 13.

The revitalization project is the brainchild of Ken Wolf, the developer behind Denver Central Market and many other projects, and business partner Ari Stutz; they're hoping to resurrect the now-empty theater (which was previously a piano store) into a high-end venue showcasing music, comedy and theater. Jerri Thiel, who previously ran the Bluebird and Ogden theaters, will head up the venue's operations. The team has been working closely with Berkeley Regis United Neighborhood to create a Good Neighbor Agreement, a binding contract intended to lessen the venue's impact on the community.

But during the hearing, some community members raised concerns about how noise complaints would be handled, while others debated parking issues. Still others discussed just how viable a venue could be that would only hold 100 people seated and 600 standing.

In advance of the meeting, petitioners had collected 291 signatures opposing the project and 331 in favor of it. Now the decision of whether to approve the license is in the hands of the city.

Under the Good Neighbor Agreement, which was amended prior to the liquor-license hearing to address neighbors' concerns, the Yates Theater would be required to end live music by 11 p.m. Sundays through Wednesdays, midnight on Thursdays, and 1:30 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. A private security team would be present during live performances and at least one hour before and after shows; sound barriers would be installed in the venue; and doors and windows would remain closed during shows. The venue would also agree to have private security stationed at 44th Avenue and Yates and Xavier streets; designate pick-up and drop-off areas for ride-sharing services; and adopt various eco-friendly business practices, from composting food, banning plastic straws and using energy-efficient appliances to having staff clean up trash in a one-block radius of the building.

The theater would also host two annual fundraisers for Berkeley-area schools.

Despite staunch opposition from about twenty residents sporting red shirts and large green badges declaring that the neighborhood would be better off without a new bar and venue, the developers remain optimistic that their license will be approved.

And ultimately, the team hopes that even current opponents will embrace the revitalization of the Yates Theater.

“We need to co-exist in the neighborhood,” says Thiel. “I don’t want people to feel like if they were against us, they can’t come to the theater.”

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