Newport Venue Revamp

A former movie theatre in Newport, R.I., is undergoing an $18 million renovation to transform it into a performing arts center for the building’s 150th anniversary.

AP Photo/Steven Senne

Construction is underway for an $18 million renovation project at the Newport Opera House in Rhode Island May 23 to transform the building into a performing arts facility.

The 700-seat Newport Opera House and Performing Arts Center is tentatively scheduled to open in December to coincide with the milestone anniversary.

And with the city being home to the Newport Jazz Festival and Newport Folk Festival, the revamped Opera House would offer another location to host musicians for those events. 

 “We could definitely use more capacity to explore other unique events,” said Jay Sweet, the festivals’ executive producer. “Having it set up specifically for music is a real positive for the city.”

The Opera House, built in 1867, has hosted a variety of entertainment including Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, actors Mary Pickford and John Barrymore, vaudeville and lecturers over time.

In 1929 it was completely renovated and became a movie theater. It was renovated as a three-screen theater 50 years later.


The renovation plan is said to have launched in 1999 when a group of civic leaders got together and determined a need for a PAC. The group purchased the building and shuttered it in 2010, said Alison Vareika, chair of the center’s board.  


Now the space is being restored and updated including restrooms, accessibility, concessions, a roof deck available year-round and a tunnel to allow performers to cross from one side of the stage to the other during a show.