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Posted: Monday, 28 July 2014 6:09AM

Renovated Orpheum Theater to join the CBD culture club

New owners of the Orpheum Theater have applied for a construction permit to begin renovations of the historic building for use as a symphony hall.

"This is another feather in the cap of the Canal Street Theater District, and we're particularly happy," says Kurt Weigle, President & CEO of the Downtown Development District of New Orleans.

"One of the reasons this is so important is because this is the return of the third of the four...what we consider to be the Canal Street theaters...with the Saenger and Joy already opened."

The Loew's State Palace theater remains shut down.

Weigle says downtown New Orleans has always been a center of culture, and the return of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra to a refurbished Orpheum will further enhance the city's cultural environment.

"We've got to have more and more things for folks to do. We've got to keep people here longer, we've got to give people from a wider variety of backgrounds a reason to visit New Orleans. So I think that, clearly, having the LPO downtown once again is going to help us to attract more tourist dollars to downtown and to the city, overall."

Tipitina's Foundation co-founders Roland von Kurnatowski and Dr. Eric George purchased the 1,750-seat theater earlier this year. They hope to have it opened by the  spring of 2015.

"Having the expertise of somebody like that driving this project is one of the things that we think will help to ensure its success," Weigle says.

And, he sees the return of the 96-year-old Orpheum, shuttered since Hurricane Katrina, as an additional draw for more than the symphony crowd.

"There are a lot of popular music shows that are not coming to New Orleans because they don't have a venue of the appropriate size. So, we continue to think that there is some room in the market for additional venue space."

Weigle says the key for the downtown venues is that they each find their niche...not ending up in a position where they start competing for exactly the same acts. Clearly, he says, the Orpheum will not compete with the touring Broadway shows at the Saenger, which is very important to the CBD cultural scene.

According to the city's permit website, Kurnatowski has applied for a $7 million building permit for the Orpheum project at 129 University Place.

Planned renovations include new restrooms and bar areas, a renovated ticket office and backstage area, a new exterior entrance canopy and signage, new elevator systems and fire safety mechanisms.

The work plans also include modifications to the gallery level to create a flat floor with private boxes, new seating on all three levels, an adjustable floor platform at the first floor and new office and theater support space in the existing basement area.

Contractors plan to restore all of the theater's plaster ornamental features, the existing marble stairs, the terrazzo floors and terra cotta wall decorations as part of the renovation.

The theater, built in 1918, is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Orpheum played host to silent films, 'talkies,' Vaudeville acts, live music acts and dance reviews. The building became the home for the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra in the 1980s. The orchestra moved to the Mahalia Jackson Theater following the storm.

"An important part of our economic strategy is monetizing the incredible cultural assets that we have as a city," says Weigle. And we're happy, in this case, that we can do that downtown."

"We're really happy that there's going to be yet another project that we can point to as a sign of downtown's success and the city of New Orleans' success."

Photo credit Karen Apricot via flickr


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