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The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley got the green light Thursday from the UT Board of Regents to purchase the iconic Majestic Theater and adjacent buildings for a new performing arts center downtown.
The purchase price is still under negotiation, but UTRGV President Guy Bailey said the estimated $47.13 million cost of renovations will be far more than what it costs to buy the buildings at 10th and East Elizabeth streets, which are owned by the Roy F. and Joann Cole Mitte Foundation.
Authorization to go forward with the project was on the regents’ consent agenda, meaning the board “had no real questions at all about it, thought it was a great idea, and they approved it on their consent agenda,” Bailey said.
The new facility for the College of Fine Art will fulfill part of UTRGV’s “core academic mission” in Brownsville, Bailey said, noting that the university currently leases performance space in the Texas Southmost College Performing Arts Center on campus.
“The problem is we don’t have it enough. We get some access to it, but not enough to meet the needs. We’ve got a lot of performing arts students and as we get this renovated it will be a terrific space for them,” Bailey said.
The Majestic Theater is a local historical site, built in 1948 as part of Karl St. John Hoblitzelle’s movie theater chain, which had vaudeville beginnings. Hoblitzelle’s chain had already seen the opening of Majestic Theaters in Dallas and San Antonio by the time it first opened its doors in Brownsville.
“It is historical to Brownsville but not on the historical registry, and that’s an important thing there. We are less constrained on internal renovation. …Having said that, we understand its iconic status in Brownsville, and we’ll try to pay homage to that,” Bailey said.
“We hope it helps spur development downtown as well. It’s primarily performing arts. So, for example music students have to give concerts. If you’re a trumpet major you give trumpet recitals. We need a venue for that, and that’s really what we lack,” Bailey said
Initially, the university plans to use the renovated Majestic space for “instructional purposes,” according to the agenda item regents approved Thursday.
The agenda item says UTRGV will provide shuttle service to and from the site for faculty, students and staff.
Bailey said he hopes eventually parking can also be developed, and he expressed confidence the city will work with the university in that regard.
“For us it’s a great opportunity to enhance programs on the Brownsville campus. It’s desperately needed for them. That said, we think it will be very good for downtown as well. Anything that makes Brownsville stronger makes us stronger. That’s one way to look at it; it’s an investment in Brownsville. We’d love to see the city redeveloped, thriving. I mean it’s the best thing for us. Our interests coincide very much there,” Bailey said.