Sammy Hagar to name Fontana theater, perform yearly

Sammy Hagar will lend his name and prestige to Center Stage Theater, the small city-owned theater in the rock singer’s native Fontana.

The theater, new name to be determined, will undergo a full renovation before reopening in summer 2023. The 400-seat venue will host intimate shows of all types, with Hagar agreeing to perform once a year for five years.

“His team is helping us brand it. It probably won’t be ‘Sammy Hagar Theater.’ His team wants something cooler than that,” Phil Burum, Fontana’s deputy city manager, told me. But the idea is that Hagar will be clearly associated with the theater and that his participation will lead other acts to perform there.

“The big win is the reputation he brings,” Burum said. “He gives us instant street cred.”

The deal was approved at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Hagar was not in attendance. Yours truly was.

The fun started before the meeting even began. Only a few of us were in the audience. The city clerk approached the man behind me to ask if he’d kill a spider in the hallway between the council chambers and the room where the council’s closed session was taking place.

The man in question, Matt Slowik (more on him momentarily), went into the hallway for reconnaissance, then returned to tell the clerk: “When you said ‘spider,’ I thought you meant like” — he held his hands apart the width of a pancake. “This was more like” — he held his thumb and forefinger almost touching.

He grabbed a Kleenex off the council dais, then a second one for good measure, and returned to the hallway. In seconds he was back and said to the clerk, “You want to see it?”, jokingly extending the wadded-up Kleenex. She made a face.

Just then, council members exited from the hallway into the chambers. The first one through was Jesse Sandoval. He confronted Slowik, asking: “Do you have an issue?”

Slowik should have said, “No, but I have a tissue.”

After the council took its seats, Mayor Acquanetta Warren saw me in the audience. She exaggeratedly mimed a question: “What are you doing here?” I smiled. If I were quicker-witted, I would have pantomimed strumming a guitar.

Faithful readers will recall that City Hall did not renew its lease with Stargazer Productions for use of Center Stage Theater. Stargazer had been presenting dinner theater and light Broadway entertainment since 2008 inside the city-owned facility before its exit in August to make way for the next use.

The former cinema, built in 1937, is located on Sierra Avenue, the main drag. Downtown is largely empty, a condition that city officials want to reverse via new housing, dining and entertainment.

Center Stage Theater, which dates to 1937, will soon undergo a $1.8 million interior remodel with updated lighting, sound and seating. It’s anticipated to reopen in summer 2023 as a 400-seat concert venue with participation by Sammy Hagar. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

As a revamp of the theater was being contemplated, Burum wanted to rope in Hagar but couldn’t figure out how to get to him.

The former Van Halen and Montrose singer graduated from Fontana High and has such business ventures as tequila, mountain bikes and a nightclub in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Slowik, the erstwhile spider slayer, proved key. He’s been friends with Hagar’s family for more than 40 years and knew the right person to reach.

“I couldn’t make contact,” said Burum, jerking his thumb in Slowik’s direction, “until this guy said, ‘Call this person.’”

Over the past six months, a deal was negotiated with Hagar’s “team” — oh, to be a person with a team — on what he would be willing to do to help.

“I chased Sammy pretty hard,” Burum admitted. “The fact that it’s a city-owned theater that’s for the community and isn’t about making money had a great deal of appeal for him.” Earlier, Burum had said of Hagar: “Apparently he’s really excited about it. I’ve never spoken to him. He’s in Cabo getting ready to celebrate his 75th birthday” — which was Thursday.

(My editor, by the way, thinks Sammy Hagar turning 75 might be bigger news than the theater. She was kidding. Mostly.)

The Hagar deal was on the council’s consent agenda under the anodyne description “Naming Rights Agreement — Center Stage Theater.” It’s not the typical naming rights agreement. No money is changing hands.

City-owned Center Stage Theater in Fontana was home to dinner theater and light Broadway-style entertainment from 2008 until August, when the operator’s lease was allowed to expire. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

Sandoval pulled the item for discussion and quizzed Burum from the dais.

The council’s lone wolf, Sandoval didn’t see any benefit to the city. He asked if there weren’t other celebrities from Fontana to approach.

“None that have sold 50 million records worldwide,” Burum replied.

Hagar has agreed to perform once per year for five years, shows for which the city would handle ticket sales and keep the proceeds, Burum said. That in-kind contribution, he said, might be worth $200,000 or more per show.

Sandoval was unimpressed.

“I’ve never seen him,” Sandoval said of Hagar. “I haven’t seen him make any contributions to the city and I’ve never heard one of his songs.”

I guess this time it was Sandoval who had an issue.

Hagar is hardly a stranger to Fontana. He’s performed at California Speedway, now Auto Club Speedway. He was grand marshal of the Fontana Days Parade for the city’s centennial in 2013. A street in the city’s northern reaches is named for him. In his autobiography he says he built and owns nine apartment buildings in the city.

“Most people who have lived in the city know that he’s from Fontana,” Mayor Warren said after Sandoval’s remarks. “People are going to want to be associated with ‘Sammy Hagar Theater.’ It’s a good thing for Fontana.”

The vote was 3-1, with Sandoval opposed and Pete Garcia absent. It was the only bum note.

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Design of Center Stage’s interior lighting, sound and seating will get under way in November with Hagar’s input, followed by construction that should begin in December, Burum said.

I’m looking forward to what develops. Also, happy 75th birthday, Mr. Hagar.

brIEfly

Mitla Cafe in San Bernardino will mark 85 years since its 1937 founding with a party on Saturday, to which admission is, appropriately enough, $85. Tickets are on sale at the restaurant, 602 N. Mt. Vernon Ave. Ticket holders get dinner (at 6:30 p.m.) and live music (starting at 7:30). If there are any speeches, those are gratis. Congratulations to this family-run San Bernardino favorite!

David Allen writes Friday, Sunday and Wednesday, dinner and music not included. Email dallen@scng.com, phone 909-483-9339, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.