Pantages makeover will enhance safety, aesthetics

Tacoma’s historic Pantages Theater will close for 18 months beginning in 2018 for seismic reinforcements.
Tacoma’s historic Pantages Theater will close for 18 months beginning in 2018 for seismic reinforcements. Staff file, 2013

The Pantages Theater – arguably the premier “jewel in the crown” of Tacoma’s arts scene – is badly in need of some serious polishing. It also must be made safer in the event of a serious earthquake.

To address those issues as well as make a number of other improvements, the city’s leading fine arts performance venue will be shuttered for 18 months starting in May 2018.

That will present a challenge for the bottom line of the theater’s manager, the Broadway Center, as well as for the five local arts groups that rely on the facility for mounting their productions. But the temporary inconvenience is a small price to pay to preserve such a valuable resource and ensure its continued vitality well into the 21st century.

The closure will especially affect the 2018 production of Tacoma City Ballet’s holiday showpiece and perennial revenue generator, “The Nutcracker.” The ballet has a large cast and big sets, and the Pantages is the only facility in Tacoma big enough to accommodate its special needs.

Pantages patrons will reap huge benefits from the $24.5 million upgrade. Although the seismic reinforcements will be the costliest improvements at $10 million, they’re not what the public will notice. Those attending concerts and other shows are more likely to enjoy the new seating and lighting, enhanced acoustics and – hallelujah! – a restored center aisle. That will mean no more having to scooch by 20 other people to reach a seat in the center of the main floor.

This project is the epitome of the public-private partnership, with money coming from city, state and other government sources as well as from private donors. The Broadway Center will start raising $7 million from private sources in early 2016.

Here’s a suggestion for raising some of that money: Challenge everyone to donate who saw “Star Wars” at the Pantages – then known as the Roxy Theater – in 1977 and 1978. That would be a lot of potential donors, as the Roxy had one of the longer first runs of the movie in North America (60 weeks).

The Pantages still shows movies, like the Warren Miller ski films. Perhaps the theater could recreate the excitement that thousands of Tacoma-area moviegoers felt when they first saw “Star Wars” at the Roxy – and raise money for its more fashionable incarnation at the same time.