Decades of tremendous efforts by Erie Events and the Warner Theatre Preservation Trust will come to fruition as Erie Events acquired the necessary property behind the Theatre stage to begin Phase IV of the restoration project. The project dates back to the 1990s when updates to the original 1931 Warner Brothers theatre began. The plan has been delayed for many years because a mortgage on the property was secured through a program with the Housing and Urban Development. The property owners were not willing to sell until the HUD mortgage matured, which occurred in 2016. Once the mortgage matured, Erie Events purchased the property which will allow the final phase to proceed. Now that Erie Events has closed on the property, the Commonwealth’s Department of General Services will remobilize the architect, Daniel Coffey and Associates of Chicago, to finish the final design.
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 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 complete.
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.
The Commonwealth was willing to hold the funds for the project until the transaction was able to be completed. The entire 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 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.