Restoration and expansion of the historic Warner Theatre will move forward after decades of tremendous efforts by Erie Events (Erie County Convention Center Authority) and the Warner Theatre Preservation Trust. The land acquisition issues that put the fourth phase of the project on hold for many years have been resolved with the owners of Mid City Towers agreeing to sell the property necessary to complete the expansion. Erie Events will purchase a portion of Mid City Towers land, the theatre’s neighbor to the south, an office building at 821 State Street and parking spaces located behind the property.
Phase IV will transform the Warner Theatre from its 1931 movie house/vaudeville stage into a historically preserved, fully-functional performing arts center. It will create basement, ground and mezzanine levels with approximately 13,750 square feet of new space and will rehabilitate approximately 9,000 square feet of existing space. The stage depth will increase by 20 feet and a new stage house with new rigging, lighting, a sound system, dressing rooms and loading docks will be added. New production equipment and a custom designed orchestral shell will also be included in the renovation.
The project will be funded in part by an $11 million grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and a $3.5 million contribution from the Warner Theatre Preservation Trust, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Once the purchase is completed, the Commonwealth’s Department of General Services will remobilize the project architect, Daniel Coffey and Associates of Chicago, to finish the final design.
The preservation and upkeep of the historic theatre is necessary because the venue is a vital asset to the community and the local groups who call the theatre home, including The Erie Philharmonic Orchestra, the Erie Broadway Series and the Lake Erie Ballet. In 2015, there were more than 82,000 patrons through the theatre doors, with a direct economic impact of $10.7 million. A significant increase in events and economic impact is expected after the renovations are done.
“The new stage infrastructure will be able to accommodate much larger touring productions, allowing the theatre to reach its full potential and further stimulate Erie’s economy and improve its quality of life for all citizens of Northwestern Pennsylvania,” said Casey Wells, Erie Events Executive Director.
The project spans a lengthy timeline dating back to the planning in the 1990s and restoration starting in 2002.
- Phase I: 2002 – $2 million – The theatre roof was replaced and all decorative surfaces in the lobby and auditorium were cleaned, painted and restored.
- Phase II: 2003 – $1 million – New seats were installed on the auditorium level and the balcony seats were renovated.
- Phase III: 2007 – $2.3 million – Expansion and integration of the theatre with the National City Bank building at 8th and French Streets. The updates incorporated the new entrance on French Street, an electronic marquee, more lobby space, an elevator, additional restrooms and concession areas. These renovations included improvements to make the theatre compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Phase IV will begin after the purchase of the Mid City Towers property this July and the construction schedule will be released once the project is remobilized. Once work begins, the theatre will need to be closed for five months during the summer, but the closure will not interrupt the Erie Philharmonic and the Erie Broadway seasons.