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To Be or Not to Be? 

Development of theater at Century Center hangs in the balance

After months of land use limbo, the Century Center is taking a second crack at developing a theater pub.

The owner of the commercial building off Century Drive on Bend's westside had hoped to redevelop several sections of the sprawling old Brightwood mill this fall including a space for the theater pub, but those efforts were stymied by several land use appeals earlier this summer.

It's all part of ongoing issues Century Center's owners have had due to the facilities' close proximity to residential areas and other businesses, like Nosler bullet factory. Residents and business owners have complained about traffic and noise issues surrounding activities at Century Center.

But on Tuesday, Century Center's owner, Dave Hill, resubmitted a request to the city of Bend to build the 2,500 square foot theater inside the complex. Hill's hope is that many of the previous concerns about development at the center would be addressed with this new request.

"They dotted every "i" and crossed every "t" so there are no open ends to get denied," said Derek Sitter, who is the owner of Volcanic Theatre Pub, which he hopes to open as soon as possible.

Hill and the theater's owners, Sitter and Don Tompos, had to resubmit their request to build because the city revoked its earlier approval of the project, said Craig Chenoweth of the city's planning department.

The city had approved building of the theater and a remodel of the west side of the complex into retail space earlier this summer. But Nosler appealed those decisions to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.

Rather than continue to fight the appeals, on Nov. 15 the city simply rescinded its earlier permission and told Hill, Sitter and Tompos, they would have to resubmit their application and go through a more rigorous review process that would take into account Nosler's complaints about traffic near Century Center.

Now that the new application has been submitted by Hill, notices will be sent to all occupants within 250 feet of the property inviting them to weigh in on a two-week comment period.

Nosler spokesperson Zach Waterman said it was too early to tell if the company would file any type of objection against the new theater development application.

"Our chief concern again is employee safety with the traffic on the side road [leading to the Century Center]," said Waterman.

Residential neighbors also have the right to object to the development.

But if there are no objections to the building of the theater, the city will grant permission for Volcanic to open its doors, said Chenoweth.

Tompos, one of the theater's owners, said he had hoped the theater would be open already.

"We're moving ahead...the theater is getting closer to completion," said Tompos.

Sitter said he is hopeful the theater will not affect Nosler.

"We're going to be an after-hours operation so traffic would be a minimum concern," said Sitter. "I don't see the comment process to be an issue, we've had strong support from the community."

Hill's other proposal to remodel the west side of Century Center and to obtain formal approval for an event center on site will remain on hold.

With final approval of the theater hanging in the balance, the owners of the Volcanic Theatre Pub are continuing construction as planned.

The idea for the venue is a theater inside a pub, where beer and food are served as patrons experience theater up close and personal. This fringe-style theater experience has grown popular since its inception in Scotland.

"It's been a labor of love, we've been doing everything ourselves so the end result will be a reflection of us," said Derek Sitter, co-owner of the pub with Don Tompos. "Don and I have spent a lot of money out of our own pockets to give the community the highest quality theater."

Last winter, Sitter and Tompos began collaborating on a vision of the theater. They wanted to locate it in an art-friendly town. Bend proved to be the obvious choice.

They plan to offer a plethora of local beer on tap, three different sized stages and a surplus of unique seating.

"I want to keep it intimate and not pretentious...a nice black box," said Sitter. "My ideal audience is around 60 people to make it acoustically perfect."

By opening a theater that serves up cold beers as well as fine acting, the two friends are hoping to fill a void in Bend's current arts scene.

Sitter said the problem with most theaters in town is that they are "dark" for certain periods at a time.

"Our theater will be open almost every day of the week with something different playing...whether it's a play, movie or musical act, we're going to keep it professionally focused on all avenues," he said.

Sitter added that he has enough faith in his artistic vision to affirm the certainty of the theater's success.

"It will be a community theater in its mission, but not a community theater in its presentation," said Sitter. "The plays we do are going to be about the middle's the working class audience I want to reach."

If no one objects to the opening of the theater at Century Center, Sitter said it's possible Volcanic could open by the first of the year.


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