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Update on Hammer Theatre Center, San Jose’s Performing Arts Partnership with SJSU


One of San Jose’s most architecturally significant public buildings started as a Redevelopment Agency project in the heart of downtown, the Susan and Phil Hammer Theatre Center. Originally built for the San Jose Repertory Theatre, the facility was opened in 1997, featuring as many as seven theatrical productions per season and providing multiple community outreach and enrichment services, until the Rep’s bankruptcy in 2014.

After a year-long search for a new operator for the Hammer Theatre Center, the City Council approved an operating and maintenance agreement with San Jose State University to develop an innovative model for operating, programming and managing the Center. The agreement was initiated in December, 2015, for a three-year incubation process to create a foundation for a financially sustainable model of providing performing arts in San Jose.

In May, the City Council’s Community and Economic Development Committee (CEDC) received a report on the status of this agreement just two and a half years into this three-year term. You can view the video of the presentation. Information on the upcoming season’s productions is available online.

Highlights of the report:

  • The model adopted by SJSU includes SJSU-created programming; SJSU sponsored programming; and community rentals of all or some spaces in the theater.
  • Significant physical repairs, improvements and upgrades have been jointly funded by the City and SCJU, totaling $2.4 million – now a state of the art venue.
  • The Hammer Theatre has featured top international talent including drummer Will Calhoun, jazz great Dee Dee Bridgewater, Carla Canales and more. A wide range of original and purchased productions, events and series, including live drama, film, video, poetry, dance, jazz, classical music and Cinequest showings can be seen throughout the year.
  • The City provides an annual subsidy of $285,000, which is about 15 percent of the cost to operate the facility.
  • For FY 2017-18, SJSU reported that expenses for Hammer operations were supported by the revenue received.

The City’s agreement with SJSU expires on December 31, 2018, and the parties will be having discussions on a mutually beneficial approach to a longer-term agreement, and they will present recommendations to the CEDC in the next few months. An extension of the current agreement may be proposed to the City Council that would allow further exploration of partnership options.