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Dramatic improvements underway at Wealthy Theatre

This dispatch was added by one of our Nonprofit Neighbors. It does not represent the editorial voice of The Rapidian or Community Media Center.

With construction and upgrades underway, much will be like it once was at historic Wealthy Theatre, restored to its original beauty over coming month. At the same time, much will be like it never was, as this cutting-edge venue continues to evolve.

Thanks to our supporters...

Over 300 donations were made to support Wealthy Theatre's sustainability efforts, most of which were $100 or less.

Along with this profound grassroots-level investment in the future of Wealthy Theatre, major support was provided by the following:

  • Wege Foundation
  • Steve and Cindy Van Andel Foundation
  • Steelcase Foundation
  • Frey Foundation
  • Dick and Besty DeVos Foundation
  • Arts Council of Grand Rapids
  • Peter C. and Emajean Cook Foundation
  • West Michigan 100 Strong
  • Bank of America Foundation
  • Wheeler Family Foundations
  • Fred and Lena Meijer Foundation
  • Rockford Construction
  • Steelcase Inc.
  • Meijer Inc.
  • Irwin Seating
  • ACLU of West Michigan

In addition, Rockford Construction has donated significant assistance in helping Commnity Media Center (CMC) complete the campaign, and manage the overall construction. Paradigm Design has donated architectural design work, which has been vitally important for two reasons: first, Paradigm Design has an outstanding reputation and so the work based on the design has the highest integrity; and second, Paradigm's William T. Brunner was part of the original S.E.E.D. (Southeast Economic Development organization) that helped bring back Wealthy Theatre in the 1990s, so he knows this place in and out, and has been invaluable in the current phase of construction.

/courtesy of Wealthy Theatre

/courtesy of Wealthy Theatre

/courtesy of Wealthy Theatre

"Historic preservation is a study in contradiction," says Wealthy Theatre Director Erin Wilson. "While the fundament of Wealthy Theatre could withstand a hundred hurricanes, much of it is not built to last, like the decorative wood in our facade. So we mend it, and we honor and preserve it by replacing those things exactly as they were, with ephemeral materials.

"To value authenticity more than convenience is true love," adds Wilson.

The mending has begun in earnest at Wealthy Theatre, in partnership with Rockford Construction and Paradigm Design, thanks to the overwhelming support of the community - who helped to successfully complete theatre's ambitious Centennial Sustainability Campaign.

"The community through its support said this history was worth preserving, and so the future looks brighter than ever," Wilson says. "Not just because we have a rebirth underway; but because we are a community that cherishes its history."

Grand Rapids Community Media Center (CMC) re-opened Wealthy Theatre in 2005 at the request of community leaders, who considered the theatre essential to a recovery of the long-challenged Wealthy Theatre Historic District - a recovery jeopardized in 2004 when the theatre closed its doors, after having been renovated in the 1990s.

"As (CMC) approaches a full decade as stewards of Wealthy Theatre, we've seen the hoped-for comeback blossom into a full-on renaissance," he says. "The Centennial Sustainability Campaign represents our commitment to the long-term well being of this city landmark that we all love so dearly."

Painting in nearly all first-floor spaces is underway. The majority of the improvements will be realized through mid-July.

Wilson said the Sustainability Campaign, first drafted in 2007, has been adaptive.

"Our timing (in completing the campaign) was a blessing, because suddenly we had a rapidly deteriorating roof - and water damage to the facade accelerated exponentially with heavy rains and late freezing temperatures, this year," Wilson said. "The first thing we did was replace the roof, and at the end of June we will restore the facade."

Construction through July includes beautification and greening of the back parking lot, comprehensive efforts to reduce energy loss and significant upgrades to the facility's technologies.

Wilson notes that the city's Historic Preservation Commission recently approved two major components of the campaign: the addition of a structure around the loading dock to contain heat, and the installation of a solar panel array on the southwest rooftop.

Wilson says the mission statement of the Sustainability campaign, itself, may have seemed like a contradiction, stating that the entire project was to "embrace the future to preserve the past."

"But (Historic Preservation) Commissioners saw the design as a possible model for historic districts nationwide, praising the way the design maximized potential energy capture while largely concealing the solar panels," he says.

Wilson says Grand Rapid City officials have played a significant role in the success and survival of Wealthy Theatre, noting that Mayor George Heartwell served as an advisor on the campaign's steering committee, and the Grand Rapids Fire Department helped the theatre to improve its fire prevention procedures and pass a comprehensive series of inspections.

"The City of Grand Rapids has a vision for the future that includes its history," Wilson says. "They're diligent with respect to proposed changes, protective with regard to inspections, and their support and concern for this gathering space is unequaled."

Wilson says nearly all improvements will be complete before Labor Day, with all construction completed in July.

Additional updates and images will appear in The Rapidian throughout the summer.

"This is a very exciting time, especially for the community that attends and produces events at this storied theatre, thanks to the resounding investment by the community," Wilson says. "We can't wait until the community can see what's been planned to mend and improve their theatre, all of which is now underway."

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