The East County Performing Arts Center, shut down nearly 10 years ago as a recession forced the City of El Cajon to make budget cuts, is in the midst of a transformation.
The center, located next to city hall, is scheduled to reopen in April 2019, with a new partner, a renovated interior and high expectations for downtown El Cajon.
"It's going to be the same building, the same bones, but it's all going to be dressed up differently so that if you've been to this venue before, it's going to feel different," said Tony Hernandez, associate engineer for the City of El Cajon. "It's going to feel refreshed, it's going to feel new."
The interior is currently in the demolition phase. In the theater area, the old control room will become a V.I.P. lounge and 200 audience seats will be added, increasing the capacity to about 1,300 seats. The first few rows will also have plush seating.
Workers will install a new elevator in the lobby to replace the old chairlift that once took people to the second floor.
A new bar area will also welcome people as they walk through the front doors.
Minimal changes will be made to the building’s exterior.
A big part of the renovations won't be visible to visitors. Construction crews with Wieland are installing new heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and making other updates.
The renovations align with a new strategy: hiring Live Nation to manage the performing arts center.
"Having Live Nation as a partner has helped us understand what the music industry needs, what the performing industry needs, where we would, as staff, we would never know that," said Graham Mitchell, El Cajon's City Manager. "This is sort of that next catalyst project that I think will take the downtown to another level."
Mitchell said the city owns the parking spaces outside the courthouse and city hall, which will be available for events.
"We'll compete with any concert venue in San Diego," added Mitchell.
The cost of renovations is estimated at $6.3 million. Most of the funding came from selling the old El Cajon police department building on Fletcher Parkway.
City officials are also considering corporate naming rights for the new arts center.