San Jose State Proposal to Take Over ‘The Rep’ Goes to Council

City officials are poised to approve a three-year lease that would breathe new life into Hammer Theatre Center, which went dark a year ago when the previous tenant filed for bankruptcy.

Under an agreement up for consideration at Tuesday's City Council meeting, San Jose State University would manage and operate the $27 million landmark "blue box" theater. The city would reduce the $850,000 in annual operating costs with $285,000 yearly payments.

SJSU wants to use the 528-seat venue as a stage for its dance and drama departments, instructional events, shared productions with other theater companies and to rent to community groups. The proposal is modeled after the city's partnership with the university in managing the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library in downtown.

Only one other plan was proposed. San Jose Rep founder Jim Reber, Symphony Silicon Valley President Andrew Bales and the theater's benefactors, Susan and Phil Hammer, wanted the facility leased to a professional theater company.

San Jose financed construction of the 54,000-square-foot theater with $31.6 million in tax-exempt bonds. The facility opened in 1997 as the Hammer Theatre Center, named after former San Jose Mayor Susan Hammer and her husband, Phil, both longtime patrons of the arts.

At its height under the purview of the resident San Jose Repertory Theatre, the theater claimed more than 11,000 subscribers and contributed some $9 million a year to the downtown economy, according to the city's Office of Cultural Affairs.

But in 2014, The San Jose Rep filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy after 34 years—a huge loss for downtown businesses that relied on patrons. Meanwhile, the theater has been mostly empty. San Jose subsidized the building's maintenance to the tune of $250,000 in the past year and opened the space up to temporary pop-up shops.

If the council approves the lease with SJSU, the theatre could be up and running by this fall.

More from the San Jose City Council agenda for June 9, 2015:

WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. Great move by SJSU and the city! Now only if they could join forces and prevent many homeless from searching for porn on library computers thatvwould be the Triple Crown of City-University Collaboration (with respect to American Pharaoh)

    • Didn’t the last City Council under Reed essentially declare it a right for the homeless hangout at the library especially if they were using computers to surf porn? Voting down purchase of blocking/filtering software and even privacy screens for the monitors?

      A smart underpaid librarian should file a hostile work environment/harassment lawsuit against the City for creating, contributing to, and maintaining the toxic atmosphere in our “sacred” public libraries.

      …but then take a backseat while Denelle’s claim against the City and Mamone Pier is dealt with.

  2. Can’t we turn it into a homeless shelter or low income hosing unit? After all us tax payers need a place to stay!

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