BERKELEY -- David Mayeri, president of a nonprofit organization planning a renaissance of the long-shuttered UC Theatre, got his start with Bill Graham Presents as a student at Berkeley High in the early 1970s.
"I was a 16-year-old kid who got paid $10 cash to unload the truck for the Bill Graham concerts at the Berkeley Community Theatre," Mayeri said in an interview held at the 97-year-old UC Theatre. "I'd unload the truck, set the stage, usher the show, tear down the stage, repack the truck. Sixteen hours of work, and I would have paid ten bucks to do it."
Mayeri eventually became chief operating officer at Bill Graham Presents, a concert promotion and production enterprise. "Bill Graham Presents was a great place to learn," Mayeri said. "Bill Graham was a great teacher."
Mayeri's latest venture began in 2009 when he planned to renovate the theater at 2036 University Ave., for which he has a long-term lease, as a for-profit company. He got city zoning permits and initial funding but was unable to raise the needed capital.
In 2012 Mayeri adopted a broader approach. He incorporated the Berkeley Music Group as a nonprofit. In addition to producing events -- mostly music but also comedy, film and speakers -- he's planning to train young people in event production and to use the venue to support other nonprofit arts organizations.
Mayeri said he's planning 75 to 100 events annually that will showcase a "diverse range of music -- everything from Americana to zydeco."
Noting the Freight & Salvage with 440 seats, the Berkeley Community Theatre with 3,500 and the Greek Theatre with 8,500, Mayeri said there's a need downtown for the midsize UC Theatre, which seats 1,460. And the space can be configured with tables and dance space for about 800 people, he said.
The education arm of the nonprofit group plans to partner with Berkeley Youth Alternatives, Oakland-based Youth UpRising and the Berkeley YMCA-PG&E Teen Center to train young people ages 17-25 in event production. Many students would have scholarships, Mayeri said.
Despite raising a little more than half his $5.2 million goal, Mayeri says he'll start renovations this summer and open in 2015.
"We're confident that we'll get the support," he said. "We have some backup plans ... and there's a great positive response from the community."
The city has stepped up to help, deferring payment for building permits. Mayeri said he's "in conversation" with the city for additional support but is not ready to reveal details.
City Economic Development Manager Michael Caplan said reopening the theater will contribute to downtown revitalization.
"It's no mistake that the downtown restaurant scene is so vital because of the success of the arts district, which brings a lot of people in for evening entertainment before they go to the show," he said.
The project will build on the UC Theatre's long history, which began in 1917, when it was a cinema showing first-run films. In 1976 Gary Meyer acquired the theater as one of the first in the Landmark Theatres chain, where he was a partner.
"There was a time when just about every refrigerator in Berkeley was affixed with a UC Theatre schedule," Carolyn Jones wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2009. "People went for the Swedish triple features, Hitchcock festivals and animation marathons. They donned wigs for 'Rocky Horror,' brought umbrellas for 'Singing in the Rain' and endured six-hour samurai epics."
In 2001, four years after Meyer left the company, Landmark boarded up the theater rather than investing the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed for a seismic upgrade, according to Mayeri's news release. It was subsequently seismically retrofitted.
In 2002, the theater facade was designated a city landmark.
The question of whether the Berkeley Music Group can raise the capital it needs remains. Caplan says it can. "They'll get going and do the final fundraising over the course of construction," he said, adding that the project is at a "pivot point."
"The economy's stronger," Caplan said, "and (Mayeri is) more than halfway there in terms of his investor base. And he's built new strategic partnerships with other nonprofits. People are excited about the project."
To see the UC Theatre through the years, go to IBABuzz.com/westcounty/?p=3874.