Quincy News

Public gets look at theater renovation

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Oct. 8, 2019 12:01 am Updated: Oct. 8, 2019 3:12 pm

QUINCY -- At last, the public is being given a glimpse into what the Washington Theater, a historic 1920s theater in downtown Quincy, could look like after going through extensive renovations and upgrades.

"We wanted to be able to present to the public a really good idea of what we are envisioning for the Washington Theater," said Brian Heinze, who chairs the Washington Theater Commission. The city-appointed commission has been tasked with overseeing what members have called the painstaking process of renovating the former 1,500 seat theater that has managed to outlast the other theaters that once lined Hampshire Street in Quincy, including the Adams Theater, the Orpheum Theater, the Bijou Theater, and the Savoy Theater.

The renderings, which were produced last year, show the former vaudeville theater that was designed by famed Chicago architect Edward P. Rupert with a flexible seating plan that could be used for a variety of events according to multiple members of the Washington Theater Commission.

"The renderings show that if our dreams come to fruition what the Washington Theater could be," Heinze said. "They put a picture to the words we have been saying for a long time about how this theater could be used."

The renderings were designed by Architechnics, which is based in Quincy.

Heinze said members of the public who have seen the renderings have been impressed.

"There has been absolute amazement and excitement," Heinze said. "I think we are all excited to get everything on paper and to be at this point."

Supporters of the renovation efforts say the theater, and the city, could become a popular spot for mid-week performances for traveling theater, comedy, dance, and musical productions headed to Springfield, Chicago, St. Louis, or Columbia. Commission members also hope to continue to make the renovated theater available for private parties, wedding receptions, and corporate events.

"The idea has always been to make the theater a multi-purpose space," said Quincy's Director of Planning and Development Chuck Bevelheimer, who also serves as an ex-officio member of the Washington Theater Commission. "The consultant has warned us that the nature of single screen theaters right now are just dying on the vine, so to speak. So if you look at the renderings, then you can see the space could be utilized."

That is not to say that the historic theater, which showed its last feature film in the 1980s, will never show another film, according to Heinze.

"The Washington Theater is not going to be a first-run theater, where people will go to see the latest Star Wars film," Heinze said. "I see us being the place that shows classic movies like the Wizard of Oz. I mean how many of us have ever seen the Wizard of Oz on the big screen? I think that is more of our niche, showing classic films or doing double features on days when there are not other events happening."

According to a study of downtown Quincy, a fully-renovated Washington Theater could prove to be a economic boom for the hotels, restaurants, and other retailers near the historic theater.

"If you think about 500 or 600 people coming into Quincy for a performance at the Washington Theater, then you have to consider the spin-off effect of what it would mean to bring that many people to downtown Quincy," Bevelheimer. "If only a quarter of the people coming to the theater, shopped, dined, or got a hotel in downtown Quincy then that would be very good news for downtown businesses."

Aldermen Jack Holtschlag and Benjamin Uzelac, who both represent the 7th Ward, which includes the Washington Theater say they see the theater as a "huge tourism attraction."

"I'd love to pull those kind of numbers," Uzelac said. "I think this has always been their goal."

Quincy Mayor Kyle Moore agreed.

"I think anytime that we can have more events downtown that it helps create that 24-hours, 7-days a week living environment that we as a city have been working on for really multiple administrations," Moore said. "Anything that we can do to help breathe new life into downtown Quincy is certainly appreciated and wanted."

Moore commended the theater commission for their work in putting together a "common sense game plan on how the theater could be utilized."

"I think we as a community are very fortunate for the activism that has occurred from the citizens of Quincy who want to see this historic theater get back to its original glory," Moore said.

Officials with the Washington Theater Commission say they will meet again later this month for their regularly scheduled meeting where they will decide how to move forward with their renovation plans.

"We are hoping to use Killis Almond strictly for the reason that renovating historic theaters is what they specialize in as architects," Heinze said. "I imagine that they will lead the project, but we will use Quincy firms as much as possible. This is being done for the betterment of Quincy, so to me it makes sense that we use as many Quincy businesses as possible to make this a reality."

Heinze said if the commission moves forward with Almond then the commission will arrange a telephone conference call with him to discuss the renovation efforts. A date for that call will be scheduled later.

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