For cues on renovations, Merriam Theater turns to the audience

The Merriam Theater on South Broad Street. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The Merriam Theater on South Broad Street. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The historic Merriam Theater on Philadelphia’s South Broad Street will soon undergo major renovation, and the owners want to entertain your thoughts.

The Kimmel Center, which for years has operated the theater and last year bought it from the University of the Arts, will soon be soliciting public input on how to reconstruct it.

Built a century ago, the Merriam epitomizes the ornate design of early 20th-century theater. Recognizing that, Kimmel Center officials have no intention of destroying any of its opulence. But plenty of things need upgrading, such as more backstage space, better climate control, and proper dressing rooms — performers currently use rooms originally built as horse stables.

Audiences don’t have it much better.

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“Often, artists hear from their patron as to the level of comfort in the auditorium,” said Ross Richards, senior vice president for facilities and operations. “The row width, aisle access, ADA access, and the general need for the venue to be refreshed.”

The organization has visions of a completely new lobby and a residential tower rising above it, though plans are not finalized. Before pen is put to a draft, the Kimmel wants to hear what the public wants.

“So many audience communities have enjoyed the Merriam and think of it as their own,” said Richards. “This is a great opportunity to share with communities the challenges with the Merriam, we are open to hearing idea and observation as to how the venue needs to be improved.”

In September, on a date not yet scheduled, the Kimmel Center will host public engagement sessions at the Merriam to let its patrons have their say. Once a viable plan is drawn up, costs will be estimated. Richards says the Kimmel is working on funding methods that will not tap into the region’s philanthropic donor community.

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