Virginia set to strut its renovated stuff

Virginia set to strut its renovated stuff

CHAMPAIGN — Just in time for Ebertfest, the Champaign Park District is ready to unveil the most substantial Virginia Theatre renovations to date.

Officials will open the theater at 203 W. Park Ave., C, to the public from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

Staff will offer tours of the theater, and visitors will be allowed to move about the building to see the renovations. They will also be treated to a performance on the newly restored Wurlitzer pipe organ.

Park district Executive Director Bobbie Herakovich said visitors should expect a brighter, more attractive theater with more comfortable seats and cleaner details. The Virginia Theatre has been restored to look more like it did when it first opened in 1921, all the way down to the colors on the wall.

The renovations have been ongoing during the past few years — passers-by already know that the Virginia Theatre marquee was replaced to resemble its original fixture. The third and most recent phase of the project aimed to restore the theater, stage and balcony itself and are the most significant updates yet.

Previous projects included rebuilding the lobby and updating the entire building to ensure its compliance with life-safety codes.

"We still have a punch list of some little things, but the goal was to have substantial completion by Ebertfest," Herakovich said.

The final price tag for Phase 3 was about $5.5 million, she said. That is higher than the $4.9 million officials estimated at the outset of the project, but the cost was higher "due to different discoveries that we wanted to take advantage of," Herakovich said.

The discoveries included canvas murals under the paint on the ceiling. The park district had those murals restored and replaced. The leaded glass shades on the lights have also been restored, making the entire ceiling a sight to behold, Herakovich said.

The cost of the most recent renovations were offset a bit by a $500,000 state grant and $300,000 in donations.

The lobby rebuild was funded with donations from the estate of Michael Carragher, and the space is now named "Tootsie's Lobby" after Mr. Carragher's mother.

The project is not finished yet. There is a fourth phase to upgrade stage lighting, add men's restrooms and improve the projection room. The theater needs a digital projector, too.

The park district took ownership of the theater in 2000 and will use the Champaign Parks Foundation to continue raising money for its renovation. Herakovich said maintenance is sure to be an expense in the decades to come.

"It's a 1921 building," she said. "As a 92-year-old building, it will need a sustaining fund."

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