PSBJ Exclusive: 5th Avenue Theatre to undergo $14M makeover

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This article was originally published in the Puget Sound Business Journal on July 26, 2016.  We didn’t want our readers without PSBJ memberships to miss out, so you can read the full feature below!

The 5th Avenue Theatre plans to spend $14 million on a remodel aimed to keep subscribers coming back.

The renovation will happen in three phases over three years, with the first beginning next week after “A Gentelman’s Guide to Love and Murder” closes.

It won’t strip away the theater’s ornate wood carvings of dragons and lotus flowers, instead it will build on the Chinese motif and give subscribers something they’ve said they desperately want — more bathrooms, a less crowded lobby and better heating and sound systems.

A series of focus groups and surveys told the 5th Avenue team what patrons had said for years: They like what’s happening on stage, but the experience before the show and during intermission wasn’t getting rave reviews.

The theater hadn’t had a major makeover since it was reopened in 1980. Some of the facilities systems actually still date back to 1926, when the theater originally opened.

With performing arts organizations competing among themselves, with other events and even streaming media for the attention and dollars of patrons, more than ever it’s important for those people to have a good experience and want to return.

“We’re in the loyalty business,” said Executive Producer and Artistic Director David Armstrong.

Bringing the more than 300,000 people who attend 5th Avenue Theater performances back each year isn’t just important to the nonprofit arts organization’s survival, said Managing Director Bernie Griffin. The theater is an economic driver for the downtown Seattle after dark.

For every dollar spent on a theater ticket, Griffin said the 5th Avenue’s patrons spend another 75 cents on other things downtown, such as dinner, parking, shopping. “They bring a vibrancy to the area,” she said.

“That won’t happen if people don’t come back,” Armstrong added. So the theater needs to make sure that people who buy tickets have a good experience from the moment they walk in the lobby doors until they walk out several hours later.

All of the changes being made will help with that patron experience, Armstrong said.

Work for the first phase begins next week and will wrap up before “Man of La Mancha” opens the new season in October. Patrons will hear the difference with a new sound system, see new carpeting in the lobby and an update of the existing bathrooms.

The Second Phase is where patrons will really begin to feel the difference.

Crews will knock out the wall at the back of the main lobby and create a “moon gate” pass through to the new expanded lobby area. The Producer’s Club will move to that level and a staircase will lead down to the building’s concourse level where new bathrooms will be built — 18 new stalls for women and some for men, as well. Patrons will see those changes at the start of the 2017-2018 season.

The final phase will happen the following year. The part of the heating and air conditioning system will be replaced, as well as seats and carpeting within the auditorium itself.

The 5th Avenue has already raised about $5 million toward its $14 million goal from board members and friends of the theater said, Managing Director Bernie Griffin. The $5 million will fund the first phase, she said, but noted that the second and third phases are contingent on patrons and community coming together to help raise the rest of the funding.

July 26, 2016, 7:52am PDT
Written by Becky Monk
Assistant Managing Editor
Puget Sound Business Journal

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