Theater to get makeover

May 13th, 2016

News Coverage:

May 13, 2016

Theater to get makeover

Keiara Carr | The Journal Gazette

Arts United will make the 660-seat Arts United Center the focus of its new, pedestrian-friendly look for the downtown Arts Campus on Main Street, Susan Mendenhall, president of Arts United, said Thursday.

Mendenhall said the organization is selecting an architectural team by late June to begin the master plans over the summer, possibly in late July.

She said the organization expects planning to take six to eight months.

“So somewhere between January and March, we’ll have some conceptual designs that have been fully vetted and articulated by the community to share,” Mendenhall said.

The result will be a design to renovate and preserve the theater designed by internationally known American architect Louis Kahn in the early 1960s. The plans will also improve patron experience, increase community gathering space and improve ADA accessibility.

“This is a space from start to end that is local to the community, and it involves a lot of community volunteers, and we want to make sure the space really reflects the needs and aspirations of the local community,” Mendenhall said.

Mendenhall said the theater is probably better known outside of Fort Wayne as an architectural gem. Arts United Center is the only Kahn building in the Midwest, and it’s the only Kahn theater that ever came to fruition when the project was completed in 1973, Mendenall said. 

Fifteen architectural proposals were submitted to Arts United in January.

“We did not anticipate the national and international response that we would get, and we got incredibly high-quality, world-class architects bidding for this project because it is a Louis Kahn-designed theater,” Mendenhall said.

Mendenhall also expects the project to connect pedestrians to the Arts Campus from emerging downtown areas such as The Landing, Freimann Square and the riverfront.

“What we need to do first is make sure that we are planning for that work in an inclusive way that involves the arts organizations that we support, the community that we support, individuals who have special needs and accessibility needs, and also key community stakeholders,” Mendenhall said.

How to get the community involved with this project is a question that Mendenhall said she will put to the four architectural teams that will deliver their final proposals next week.

Each team is a partnership between a local architectural firm and a national-level firm. The semifinalists include local firm Design Collaborative and New York-based Ennead Architects; Martin Riley of Fort Wayne and Quinn Evans Architects of Washington, D.C., and other locations; Bona Vita Architecture of Fort Wayne and Mills + Schnoering of Princeton, New Jersey; and MKM architecture + design of Fort Wayne and Westlake Reed Leskosky of Cleveland and other locations.

“We needed to have a marriage of the two. Local architecture firms really know the heartbeat of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and the exciting projects that are happening in downtown Fort Wayne. It is our goal to really support and connect with the big picture and all of the exciting initiatives that are in front of us. But also, we wanted to bring in a national-level architecture team with specific expertise in theatrical design and urban planning and acoustics. The type of the design that is unique to a theater.”