Carrie Rengers

Mike Garvey on the Crown Uptown Theatre: 'Every night is a new gamble'

A year after buying the Crown Uptown Theatre, Mike Garvey says he's made a lot of changes and learned a lot in the process.
A year after buying the Crown Uptown Theatre, Mike Garvey says he's made a lot of changes and learned a lot in the process. File photo

There's a lot Builders Inc. president Mike Garvey has learned since buying the Crown Uptown Theatre this time last year.

"Every night is a new gamble," he says. "Am I going to be able to sell tickets? Is there going to be an ice storm?"

He frets over whether he's paying artists correctly, and then there are "the things that artists ask for, like baby coconuts."

Garvey can't remember who made that request.

There are mundane issues, such as making sure the temperature stays at 72.

Then there's alcohol. Garvey has learned that people like it. A lot.

"You're basically throwing a party every night for the city of Wichita, which is a lot of pressure to make sure everything goes off smoothly."

Also, he's discovered running and revamping a theater costs more than he planned.

"We put in a lot more than we'd initially thought," Garvey says. "Maybe twice as much."

He won't say how much that is except "it's not seven figures yet."

However, Garvey says he isn't sorry he bought the Crown, which is on Douglas just east of Hillside.

"It's been fun."

He's had about twice the work, though, because Garvey also bought the former Mark Arts building at 9112 E. Central half a year before buying the Crown.

"Running two theaters is very difficult. One is plenty for most people," Garvey says.

"Initially the thought was that (the Crown) would work well with the center to work on kids stuff," he says. "That was the goal."

That's still a work in progress, but Garvey says the Crown has brought in a lot of national touring shows for children.

"That's what really got people excited about being there again."

Use of the Crown as a venue for weddings, corporate events and other functions is a big part of the theater's business.

Darah Jewell, who handles marketing and events, says the idea is "to open up the theater to more of the community as sort of a place where they can come and make it their own."

"Anything you can really think of to use a versatile theater for, we want them to know that they can come in, and it can happen here."

To prepare for those kinds of events, there have been upgrades such as new flooring and a new electrical system.

"There are a lot of subtle differences," Jewell says.

She says it was important to address the building from the inside out.

"That's kind of how we've attacked this whole thing. We know that we have this piece of history here in Wichita, and we wanted to make sure that it is structurally sound, electrically sound — everything. Now we can really start to lift it up for everybody else to actually see that."

There are new panels on the ceiling to help with acoustics for shows and concerts, which are another facet of the Crown's business.

"It was like night and day," venue manager J. Basham says of the change in sound.

"Even just talking in here now it's so much different," Jewell says.

The size of the 1928 building hasn't changed, but its seating capacity has — it's gone from 560 seats to 860 — thanks to moving some tables and chairs.

"We're an intimate house here," Basham says. "We're a nice size."

He says the extra space helps attract acts that may have bypassed the theater previously.

Jewell says they "support any place here in town that supports the arts and has a passion for it like we do," but she adds that "there's just something to be said about the versatility of the Crown Uptown."

Also, she says, "There is the nostalgia."

Jewell says so many people remember going to shows at the Crown through the years.

"We are renewing everything we can to make it that experience," she says. "It's so recognizable still, but you walk in and you're like, wow ... something's different."

There's still some work to go, such as remodeling a VIP area upstairs to use as another area to rent.

"We are picking up speed," Jewell says of attracting events.

"We are very, very hopeful for 2018."

So is Garvey. He'd like to see more crossover between his two theaters.

"So hopefully it unfolds into a good partnership there."

"Unfolds" is key because each year Garvey selects a word that's his word to live by that year.

This year's word is "unfoldment," and he says it makes sense while he watches how the Crown and his other businesses progress.

"I didn't know what was going to happen in 2018," Garvey says. "I'm just letting it all happen."

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