FREMONT -- A dormant single-screen movie theater in the Centerville district is getting a new name and a new lease on life.
Say goodbye to the Center Theater and hello to the Afghan Cultural Arts Theater, home to the Afghan Broadcasting Network.
If all goes according to plan, the theater, which sits in the heart of a commercial district with many Afghan shops, will become a television studio for the planned satellite television network, as well as a center for live theater, concerts, movie screenings and student workshops.
"We're trying to create this as the premier destination for Afghans in North America," said Barmal Gran, the center's CFO.
That ambition is hard to accept for several Centerville community leaders, who for years have viewed the theater, at 37411 Fremont Blvd., as a future city-owned performing arts center and an incubator for local theater groups.
"It seems to be exclusive," Dirk Lorenz, with the Center Theater Preservation Group, said of the Afghan theater plan. "We want something that's inclusive."
City officials, however, say they support the plan. "Now that a private developer has come along, hopefully he'll do a quality job," said Barbara Szudy, with the city's Redevelopment Agency.
The theater plan is the brainchild of Neco Shojaee, a 46-year-old San Ramon resident and real estate agent who previously owned a used sports car dealership in Dublin and an Afghan restaurant in Berkeley.
Shojaee has spent $68,000 to remodel the theater's interior, and thinks he can make enough money running a satellite television station to subsidize community events and workshops.
"I wanted to open something in Fremont -- the heart of the Afghan community -- where people could be happy and entertained," he said.
Unlike four Afghan satellite networks operating in the United States, the Afghan Broadcasting Network, scheduled to begin broadcasting in February, will steer clear of politics and religion, Shojaee said.
The network will sell airtime and produce several shows, including Afghan versions of popular American shows that will be filmed at the theater, in front of a live audience.
"Our people don't like politics, so we're trying to copy from MTV and 'Oprah,' those types of shows," said filmmaker Nazir Mardomi, who plans to host a show called "Afghan Talent," based on "American Idol."
While the television station will broadcast to viewers with special satellite hookups across North America, the theater also hopes to forge bonds with Afghan students in Fremont.
"We have a lot of talented people, but we don't have anyone to guide them," said Qader Eshpari, a 37-year-old Fremont singer, who will be in charge of sound and video production at the theater.
"We want to bring in students and teach them how to dance, sing, produce videos -- give them hope so they don't join gangs," he said, adding that non-Afghans also would be welcome.
The television studio concept is a new twist for the theater, which rarely has been open in recent years, but during the last half century has shown several different types of movies.
The city had the theater appraised last year and, based on that, made a purchase offer. But the theater owner, David Siddiq, rejected it.
Siddiq, who bought the theater for about $1 million in 2003, later took out several loans against the theater.
Shojaee said he's leasing the theater, but plans to eventually take over Siddiq's loan payments, and buy the theater and a building behind it.
"Why would anyone pay over the appraised value?" Lorenz asked, noting that the city merely hoped to break even on its plan to operate a community theater.
When asked about paying above the appraised value, Shojaee said, "I'm going to do it anyway."
Meanwhile, with the theater's opening scheduled Saturday, Shojaee forged ahead this week, applying for a use permit that would allow it to host concerts. He's also signed agreements to provide parking spaces in nearby lots for theater guests.
"This place is going to be an Afghan cultural center and a television studio for a long time," Shojaee said.
Festivities on Saturday start with a 6:30 p.m. movie followed by an 8 p.m. performance by Afghan singer Haider Salim. For tickets, go to the theater Saturday or call 925-451-7653.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-353-7002. For more Fremont news, read his blog at www.ibabuzz.com/tricitybeat.