Once more, the parking lot was filled with cars and the smells of popcorn wafted out the shuttered Mesa Fiesta 5, only this time it was to celebrate a renewed life for the boarded-up building.
And while this 30-year-old movie theater isn’t being reverted back to its former glory, it will receive a $14.9 million face-lift and expansion as Mesa Community College converts it into the new MCC Performing Arts Center.
The site, formerly owned by Harkins Theatres, will become the new home for the band room, choral room, as well as include space for production support space and a 462-seat theater addition. The project will also include the building of the MCC Art Gallery in a more central part of the campus.
“We were committed to this area,” said Mesa Mayor Scott Smith during a ground-breaking ceremony at the theater Thursday. “The Fiesta area used to be the entertainment and education center. And it’s seen better days, but we’re committed to making the area a vibrant place again.”
While the area is not expect to return to exactly what it once was, the theater will host musical plays, dance recitals and band and choral performances.
“The arts are essential to our community,” Smith said. “It’s the heart and soul of our culture … It’s such an integral part of who we are.”
With the addition of the theater, it is expected that nearly 100 performances every year will be held at the Performing Arts Center, reducing stress on the Theatre Outback and the costs for renting other venues, said Rodney Holmes, the MCC Dean of Instruction.
The updates for these buildings come after a long waiting period, he said.
A bond to build an art gallery on the campus was unable to pass in the early 90’s, Holmes said. A year later, it was promised that the next project to be completed on the campus would be the gallery.
“Now, a baby born across the street when that promise was made is now an incoming freshman,” he said.
In 2004, voters approved a $951 million bond which gave Maricopa County Community College District $90 million for new construction and remodeling and $25 million for technology and site improvements at MCC.
The Art Gallery, which will be located on the south end of the campus near the Theatre Outback and the Art/Communication building, is expected to be completed by next summer. It will house student, faculty, college and national art shows, which has the potential to draw more people to the Fiesta area.
The theater reaches back to a time when the freeway ended at Price Road and multiplex theaters were relatively unheard of, Holmes said.
“Five theaters in one?” he asked a laughing group at the ground breaking. “Who would have thought of that?”
The theater was opened in 1979 by Mann Theatres. In the late 1980s, it was purchased by Harkins, which in turn sold the complex to MCC in 2009. The Fiesta 5, as it was known, closed in May of that year.
Plans also include renovating the former Fuddruckers building to match the Performing Arts Center for use as college storage.
The MCC Art Gallery was designed by DWL Architects + Planners, Inc., which also designed the Paul A. Elsner Library and Life Science building on the Southern and Dobson campus.
Jones Studio designed the Performing Arts Center and it is expected to be complete by spring 2014.
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