NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Those who oversee the operation of Chrysler Hall say that while taxpayers probably won’t be funding massive renovations anytime soon, that doesn’t mean the renovations aren’t of the utmost importance.

That’s one reason a “Chrysler Hall Foundation” may be in the works, to try to raise money from private donors to secure a second act at the 50-year-old theater.

Built in 1972 and billed as the largest performing arts center on Hampton Roads, Norfolk city leaders have publicly discussed the need for major upgrades to Chrysler Hall since 2017. In 2020 the city planned to close the hall and finance the estimated value of 40 million dollars. of work.

But then COVID-19 arrived and the project was postponed in an attempt to compensate for a loss of city revenue. Two years later, City Manager Chip Filer announced that project costs had more than doubled to $90 million. This time, he recommended to the city council consider removing the project completely from the table.

“Significant investment in building system upgrades and rear of house renovations is needed to continue to attract top performances and performers,” Filer said in a letter to the council. “That said, timing and circumstances have conspired to make this project difficult to fund. In many ways, it’s the right project at the wrong time.

Filer said $134 million is now needed for a Downtown Floodwall project grant.

But the project could end up in the budget later. Filer said he first needed to see “substantial financial commitments from our philanthropic community.”

To kick-start these efforts, John Rhamstine, the longtime director of SevenVenues who runs Chrysler Hall, thinks creating a foundation might be the way to go.

“I don’t think he would be able to fund the whole project, but I think it would help contribute to the effort,” Rhamstine said.

Rhamstine did not give a timeline for the foundation effort, but said renovations cannot be postponed indefinitely.

“You can only know, put band-aids on things for a short time,” Rhamstine said.

During a tour given to 10 On Your Side on Monday, Rhamstine and his team highlighted five major improvements they have already designed and planned. He said they fall into one of two areas: creature comforts for the public and customer services.

Creature comfort improvements:

The lobby, the theater entrances and the seats themselves have all exceeded their useful life, Rhamstine said.

He has repeatedly said that the hall is side by side before a show with guests thronging the merchandise and concession stands. Rhamstine said having only one bathroom for men and women on the first floor also leads to queues.

Plans call for the hall to be extended over 10 feet to the supporting pillars of the building. A new entrance at the rear of the theater would free up space on the right and left sides of the house for an additional restroom.

Finally, the 2,500-seat theater would lose over 100 seats to create two aisles to the orchestra pit. Currently, the theater uses what is known as “continental seating”, meaning there are only two ways to enter and exit each row.

Improvements at the back of the house:

Behind-the-scenes improvements include a new three-door loading dock and the installation of a renovated kitchen and changing rooms.

Steven Davis, head of stage production for SevenVenues, said loading into Broadway shows, especially big ones like “Hamilton,” “Lion King” and “Wicked,” has become quite a time-consuming process because theater n only has one loading dock.

“Every piece of equipment has to go through that door to get to that stage,” Davis said. ” A door. One truck at a time.

In addition, the length of the loading dock necessitates the temporary halting of traffic on Saint-Paul Boulevard, as large trucks wind their way back onto the platform.

He said it lengthens the loading and unloading process by more than a day or two compared to other theaters.

“It cuts into your income, right off the bat just to have the show here,” Davis said.

Plans call for the construction of three new loading docks right next to the current wings on the left. The current loading dock is behind the scenes.

Lower-stage conditions also reduce revenue. Aging locker rooms and the lack of a kitchen necessitate higher catering costs for each performance. Currently there are several refrigerators and an industrial sink. However, it shares the space with two bathroom cabins, separated by a curtain.

“If you’ve been here before, you remember being here before,” Davis said, referring to the artists and technicians. “It’s a memorable theater.”