Facelift For Wichita’s Orpheum

The historic Orpheum Theatre in Wichita, Kan., needs some work — about $7 million to $9 million worth — so officials are working out the funding one project at a time.

Orpheum Theatre Performing Arts Center Ltd. President Mary Eves said the upgrades are projects that were mapped out since a group of investors bought the venue in 1984. However, because of a foreclosure lawsuit, the theatre didn’t really become fully operational until 2000.

“To date we’ve invested about $2.8 million and the bulk of that has been on shoring up the infrastructure,” Eves told Pollstar. “The upshot of it is the building basically sat vacant for almost 20 years.

“There had been a lot of deferred maintenance on it prior to it closing, and when you add that additional time that it was vacant, it was in pretty sad condition.”

By the time the non-profit took over the former vaudeville house, built in 1922, all but the structure needed to be repaired. The board worked to reopen it to generate income and regain the community’s interest, which had waned in two decades. Improvements to the theatre so far include a new roof, new heating and air conditioning and new restrooms, with more to come.

Future projects include replacing the auditorium’s seats and floor, enlarging the orchestra pit and stage, and restoring the vestibule and ticket booth.

“Right at this very moment, the next project we’ll be starting is the lobby and concession area. That’s going to be a $350,000 to $375,000 project, [and] we have the money for that,” Eves said.

“Our policy has been that we don’t start a project until we have the money. We are debt free — we’ve have never borrowed money — which makes it easier to tolerate the fickleness of the entertainment market.”

Eves said the 1,300-seat Orpheum hosts about 80 events a year, including concerts and other shows that have drawn about 100,000 people over the last three years. That revenue, in addition to fund-raising efforts and grants, have helped pay for the ongoing restoration work.

“We’ve had Ray Charles, Nancy Wilson, The Righteous Brothers, Bill Cosby and those things have really helped raise the consciousness level,” Eves said. “We’re having smaller [events] as well. But it really helps us to elevate our image in the community with the quality of the performances we bring to the theatre.”

The venue will be dark once work on the auditorium gets going, but Eves said it will be scheduled around shows on the books as much as possible.

Tina Amendola