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Tracy Grand Theatre Center for the Arts
The view from inside the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts looking toward the Charles and Marge Spatafore Grand Staircase. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

• WHAT: Grand Theatre Center for the Arts
• WHERE: 715 Central Avenue, Tracy
• PHONE: (209-831-6tkt (6858)
• TICKETS: E-mail: for concert tickets.
• ED PROGRAMS: for the arts education program.
• DIRECTIONS: From Manteca 120 Bypass: Head south on I-5, exit 205 West towards San Francisco, exit MacArthur Blvd., head south. Right onto 11th Street, left onto Central to 715 Central Avenue.
• PARKING: Free parking is available on nearby streets and public lots at 6th St. and Central Avenue. Patron drop-off and pick-up available at loading zone on Central Avenue.

TRACY – New York has a famous Grand – the Grand Central Station for commuters.

The City of Tracy has its own Grand, too – the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts. And if you haven’t discovered it yet, then it’s time you head out to this southeast San Joaquin City of 83,000 residents and get immersed in a Grand experience of the arts – from stage performances and concerts to paintings, ceramics, and so much more.

The Grand Theatre Center for the Arts is also a perfect example of what city redevelopment can do to revitalize a historically rich but commercially dying downtown.

Located on Central Avenue, corner of Sixth Street, in the heart of downtown Tracy, the 37,000-square-foot Grand Theatre for the Arts was a $19  million capital improvement project of the city. It actually encompasses five buildings which were architecturally merged together with the central merging area serving as a cathedral-ceilinged rotunda where all the different artistic offerings can be accessed.

“It’s really a gift back to the community,” said William F. Wilson II, one of the managers at the Grand Theatre whose task is that of Gallery supervisor.

Since it opened in 2007, the Grand Theatre has been averaging 45,000 to 50,000 visitors a year. About 60 percent of the visitors are local, with the remaining 40 percent from out of town.

“And it’s still growing despite the economy,” Wilson said about the continuing success of the Grand Theatre for the Arts.

Additionally, the city’s Arts Education Program which is housed in this facility, has an annual enrollment of 2,000 to 2,500 students a year, Wilson said.

There are also two art galleries where the works of various artists working in different art disciplines can be viewed during business hours – Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with private visits available by prior arrangement.

One of the galleries is called the co-op, described by Wilson as the “sales area.” Art pieces from raku to fiber arts and three-dimensional woodworks from recycled wood materials as well as one-of-a-kind, limited-edition illustrated books, can be purchased here. There are also freebies such as art magazines available to anyone interested.

The other gallery is where the changing exhibitions are held. Each exhibition runs for eight weeks.

Jeffrey Haskett, the Grand Theatre’s other Program Manager who is the theater supervisor, echoed Wilson’s comment about the continuing success and growth of this home for the arts despite the fact “our budget has been reduced every time since we opened in 2007.”

The Grand Theatre Center for the Arts is under the city’s Cultural Arts Division in the City Manager’s Office. The budget for the Cultural Arts Division for the current fiscal year is $1.5 million, Haskett said. But that also includes “things that are outside this (Grand Theatre) building as well as all the public art projects in the city and maintenance of the archives.

The city’s summer arts series, such as the Music in the Park which offers seven to eight concerts every year, is put together by the Tracy Arts Commission and is not part of the Cultural Arts’ budget.

A big part of the Grand Theatre’s success, said Haskett, comes from “a large volunteer force” that helps the city staff in various capacities.

The recent two-night concert appearance of country heavyweight Willie Nelson helped increase the visibility of the Grand Theatre.

“The real thing with these big concerts is exposure,” Haskett said.

They try to minimize their financial risks by being careful about the shows that they pick. Willie Nelson was “one of those expensive shows; we knew we were gonna come close to selling out,” he said.

And they did almost sell out.

“We were 50 seats shy of selling out, probably because it was two week nights. We didn’t make money; we came a little short. But the pre-sale made up for that. So, in the end, we lost $10,000 but we gained it in other ways,” Haskett said.

For the rest of the 2012-13 concert season, the Grand Theatre will present three “big Broadway stars,” Haskett said. They are:

•  Jeri Sager, best known for her portrayal of “Grizabella” in “CATS,” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony Award-winning Musical. Concert date is Saturday, Feb. 9, 2012, starting at 8 p.m.; tickets from $20 to $35.

• Frank D’Ambrosio, aka “Phantom of the Opera’s” “Iron Man of the Mask” who is returning to Tracy with a new holiday show on Friday, Dec. 7, starting at 8 p.m.; tickets from $20 to $35.

• Anthony Rapp’s one-man musical, “Without You,” showing on Saturday, March 23, 2013 starting at 8 p.m.; tickets from $20 to $35. Anthony Rapp originated the role of Mark Cohen in the original Off-Broadway, Broadway, and London productions of “Rent” and subsequently reprised it in the film version. He will be backed by a five-piece band using a mix of original music and songs by Larson and the band R.E.M.

209 staff reporte