Live theater will soon be returning to downtown Martinez. On Sept. 18, the Martinez City Council approved commencement of negotiations of a sublicense of the Campbell Theatre with Onstage Repertory Theatre.

The agreement, which will run through Dec. 31, 2014, should be ready for final approval in the next few weeks, with the hope of holiday performances in late November and into December.

The Campbell Theatre, located on Ward Street in downtown Martinez, is an approximately 5,700-square-foot, two-story building. The city has been leasing the building from the Bisio family since 2005, and up until August 2012, was the home of the Willows Theatre Company Cabaret.

The former auto parts store and county storage facility underwent extensive remodeling and renovations. More than $1 million in private donations went into those renovations and into the construction of the production facility near the John Muir Amphitheatre in Waterfront Park.

The theater opened in 2007 with a performance of Danny Goggins' world-renowned comedy "Nunsense." Special guests at the opening were former "Nunsense" actors Georgia Engel, Lee Meriwether and Darlene Love.

For the next 4 years, the Campbell Theatre held hundreds of performances and brought thousands of people to downtown Martinez. The theater closed in August 2012 and the Willows declared bankruptcy that November.

Although the Campbell Theatre closed its doors and the building has been sitting empty for more than a year, the city is still obligated to pay rent through the expiration of the lease in December 2014.

We had hoped to open the building to allow it to be utilized by other theater companies and promoters for live theater, comedy, lectures, meetings and gatherings.

Unfortunately, due to the bankruptcy and liens placed upon the Willows personal property by lenders as collateral, we were legally prohibited from opening the theater.

The personal property in the Campbell Theatre consisted of various sound, lighting, stage and concessionaire equipment. Through months of negotiations and delays, Martinez recently acquired title to this property and all liens and demands have been satisfied. This placed the city in a position to move forward with a sublicense for the theater to a third-party manager.

We released a request for qualifications (RFQ) for a theater manager in late July and received two responses, which we determined not to be viable.

We released a second RFQ in late August and received four responses. Those were evaluated and a recommendation was made to approve the proposal from Onstage Repertory Theatre.

Onstage is a nonprofit theater with more than 35 years of experience and strong ties to a number of other local theater companies. Onstage envisions directly booking music, standup comedy, business meetings, acting classes and a variety of K-12 "young artist" performances.

Onstage is also willing to rent the space to another event holder for special performances beyond Onstage's scope or expertise.

This is an important component of the vision for the Campbell Theatre. Martinez is home to many talented artists that perform at venues in the downtown. The Campbell Theatre provides the potential for a larger audience for these performers.

Within six months of renewed operations of the Campbell Theatre, the city will be evaluating the success and the future of live theater in downtown Martinez.

There are no hard numbers on how many people attended past performances at the Campbell, but if you talk to downtown restaurateurs, they were packed with people attending the theater. I am confident that attendance at new performances will be strong.

I am very much in favor of supporting the arts in Martinez. That includes the Martinez Opera, performances at the John Muir Amphitheatre and the revival of the Campbell Theatre. The arts are a part of the culture of a community, and also fire the engine of economic development in Martinez.

Schroder is the mayor of Martinez. Email him at columns@bayareanewsgroup.com.