Release Date: November 16,2018

Restoration of Akron Civic Theatre will help build a more vibrant, connected downtown Akron with $5 million investment

Akron Civic Theatre today announced plans to transform Akron’s Whitelaw Building into a vibrant new theatre, revitalizing a key corridor of Akron’s primary downtown entertainment and residential district and introducing new opportunities for Akron residents to meet and connect. The project is a collaboration with the Bowery Development Group and is supported by a $4 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and a $1 million grant from the GAR Foundation.

These grants support part of the Bowery Redevelopment Project, an initiative that seeks to renovate and repurpose five empty buildings next to the Akron Civic Theatre on South Main Street, as a way to enliven and revitalize downtown. The Bowery Project will break ground tomorrow. With the support of the Knight and GAR foundations, one of the six buildings within the Bowery Redevelopment Project — the Whitelaw building, constructed in 1895 — will be granted new life as a vibrant, 225-capacity performance and flexible-use event space, operated by the Akron Civic Theatre as a complement to its historic 2,592-seat auditorium.

The Civic Theatre is embarking on a restoration and expansion project, expected to have a total cost of $8.5 million, which also includes the revitalization of the theatre’s Grand Lobby and entry arcade that began in 2002, create a multi-level outdoor deck to connect Main Street to public spaces in Locks 3 & 4, and replace the theater’s box office and administrative office. The Akron Civic Theatre has served as a downtown Akron cultural anchor since its opening in 1929; it now draws more than 135,000 people to Akron’s Main Street each year.

In late 2016, Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan announced the planned renovation by the Bowery Development Group of the historic Landmark Building and the adjacent five vacant structures connecting to Lock 3, now a downtown park that hosts community and cultural activities. These buildings, each vacant for a decade or more, will be transformed into mixed-use residential, office, retail, bar/restaurant and entertainment space.

“This neglected block of Main Street has served as a physical and psychological stumbling block for too long,” Horrigan said of the redevelopment. “The renovation of these buildings will add desirable residential and retail options that will activate this important section of downtown and complement investments in Locks 3 and 4 and the TIGER grant-funded renovation of Main Street. Most importantly, this project will catalyze additional investments and elevate Downtown Akron as a place where people want to live, businesses want to locate, and visitors want to invest their dining and entertainment dollars. And a stronger downtown means a stronger, more prosperous Akron.”

“The Civic Theatre is a cultural gem that draws people to the heart of our city,” said Kyle Kutuchief, Knight Foundation program director for Akron. “Its restoration will add new life to Main Street, strengthening a downtown beacon that will help energize the neighborhood and connect people to Akron and to each other.”

Locally-based GAR Foundation has also stepped forward with enthusiastic support. “This revitalization project gives overdue attention to our community’s front door on Main Street, in the heart of downtown Akron,” said Christine Mayer, president of GAR Foundation. “The Civic Theatre’s contribution to the local arts and culture sector continues to strengthen Akron’s identity as a vibrant and creative community.”

Additional support has been committed from the State of Ohio, Akron Reimagining the Civic Commons, Mary S. and David C. Corbin Foundation, Lehner Family Foundation, Robert O. and Annamae Orr Family Foundation, Akron Community Foundation, Akron Civic Theatre Women’s Guild, Kenneth L. Calhoun Charitable Trust, GPD Group, and other leadership.  A total of $6.5 million has been raised for the project to date.

According to a recent study by Americans for the Arts, (Arts and Economic Prosperity 5 Report) the Civic currently generates an annual $8.1 million in economic activity by presenting 200 events annually. The expanded performance and event space will host 100 events each year and attract 15,000 people pushing the immediate and ongoing impact of the theater’s operations beyond $9 million.

“The Civic is an economic driver in the heart of downtown, and a cultural anchor in our community” said Candice Carlyon, president of the Akron Civic Theatre Board.  “We are deeply grateful for the support of the private sector, as well as that of the City of Akron, County of Summit, and, the Development Finance Authority of Summit County, and the Knight and GAR foundations, without which this impactful project would not be possible.”

Following a strategic framework created in 2007, The Civic programs a mix of national, regional, and local entertainment, as well as community events ranging from weddings to graduations.  A similar mix will be featured in the smaller-capacity new space, while making the existing theater available for more larger scale productions.

“This project is the culmination of more than 10 years of focused and strategic work by the theater’s Board of Trustees and staff,” said Executive Director Howard Parr.  “We look forward to talking about this throughout our community and to continuing and expanding the theater’s impact as this exciting plan becomes a reality.”