A former basketball gym and empty retail space has been turned into the region's newest theater, marking the first big step in a $10 million transformation of the 50-year-old Medford Center.

The new theater space, directly across from the entrance to Tinseltown, is the most visible upgrade to the old shopping center by Los Angeles-based LBG Real Estate Company, which has talked about turning the center into a regional entertainment hub.

The Collaborative Theatre Project, a new nonprofit theater arts group, will host its inaugural Christmas season in the new theater with a run of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" Dec. 1-31.

Run by a trio of performing arts gurus, CTP plans to focus on live theatrical productions, both in the new space and around the community, as well as providing a venue for local talents who may have been limited by other programs in the region.

The theater was created out of a portion of the International Fitness health club, which shifted its entrance and some of its operations to accommodate the renovation.

The theater group took over a section of the basketball court, which provided the thespians with a quality springboard floor. Another portion of gym's former footprint is expected to be turned into a restaurant space.

Medford Center developers have said they want to offer more options for food, entertainment and community gathering, along with retail, in order to give the project a more interactive focus than traditional shopping centers.

Susan Aversa-Orrego, one of three founding CTP members, said her group is excited to christen the new theater. Aversa-Orrego said the group approached the center's owners last year when redevelopment plans were being laid out.

"They were starting to plan a massive redevelopment of the Medford Center, and they had signs in the window that said, 'This space is not empty, it's full of possibility.' ... We were bold enough to make a phone call and say, 'We have an amazing core group, and some great ideas, but we have no money,' " she noted with a laugh.

"And they were willing to work with us so that we could make this all possible. They've been amazing to work with and just the best possible team we could have ever dreamed of."

The theater's first show Thursday will be a grand opening, of sorts, to kick off the looming overhaul, said LBG managing partner Leslie Lundin. Redevelopment will begin in earnest just after the New Year, Lundin said.

Plans being considered include a 75-foot tower to display tenant names, a new entry arch with a pine-cone motif, and a new plaza area for community gatherings and activities such as live music.

Lundin said the theater is a good example of the type of space the partners are eager to incorporate into the new version of the center.

"It's a really, really nice theater, a legitimate high-end kind of boutique-y theater. The whole idea is we really want to be the entertainment hub of Medford. We've got Tinseltown, so it makes sense to have the live theater and shows going on there, too," Lundin said.

"It's kind of an 'All roads lead to Medford Center' approach. We're flanked by really major streets and close to the downtown. It's just been around a really long time, and we want to return it to what it was supposed to be."

For more information about CTP, including tickets to "The Snow Queen, see www.ctporegon.org.

— Reach Medford freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com