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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Orpheum Theatre renovation could boost downtown

BY BILL WILSON
The Wichita Eagle

If timing is everything, then Wichita's 90-year-old Orpheum Theatre couldn't have picked a better time to launch a multimillion-dollar capital renovation campaign.

Preliminary work has begun at 200 N. Broadway toward a goal of a full-scale restoration beginning in a year that will bring the historic theater back to "destination status," said Jennifer Wright, the Orpheum president.

It's the right time for the Orpheum to reassert itself downtown, said the architect of Project Downtown, the city's revitalization plan.

"It fits very well," said David Dixon, the Goody Clancy consultant.

"I can't think of a single negative attached to it. And from the standpoint of a restored theater, with Columbus, Ohio, as a good example, it's restored theaters that often lead downtown revitalization."

Wright said the Orpheum, restored and expanded to its 1922 past with new seating, could double its 100 shows per year, 40,000 annual attendance and the $2.2 million in annual economic impact it has downtown.

Dixon said she's right.

"From a number of perspectives, the Orpheum makes great sense as a key piece of a revitalized downtown Wichita," he said.

"It's close enough to make the core of downtown walkable. The Orpheum is within walking distance of Old Town. Theaters and restaurants have a natural synergy.

"So what they are doing at the Orpheum does nothing but help build your downtown as a destination that brings people with them."

Wright said the theater is in its "quiet" phase of the capital campaign, so she declined to disclose the amount the group is trying to raise, or the amount of current contributions.

But she's confident that major work will begin in about a year.

"We expect to be successful," she said. "This is going to happen. These theaters are a catalyst, a tipping point, to tremendous growth and revitalization for a city."

Wright is confident in the possibilities for Wichita, after a convention trip to the Proctors Theater in Schenectady, N.Y.

There, $32 million in public and private funds were raised for downtown restoration and development.

"Once it was restored, it was a catalyst for economic development. A complete boom ... "Wright said.

"Their economic development impact on the city is $42 million, so you can see that it pays for itself, drawing in people and businesses."

Wright thinks the Orpheum restoration can be the impetus for nearby restaurants, art galleries, more retail businesses and more people living downtown — a First Street cultural corridor.

"An expansion of Old Town westward to the Orpheum as an anchor, and beyond," she said. "The whole area is just screaming for development."

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com.

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