Duluth Playhouse makes plans to renovate NorShor Theatre

The City of Duluth is planning on selling the NorShor Theatre in downtown to private investors who will make extensive renovations to the building, having it open to the public in summer or fall of 2014.

The NorShor, currently in disrepair, is not open to the public at the moment, but The Depot Playhouse looks to change this in the upcoming years. With the help of Sherman Associates, a real estate firm, they wish to make extensive renovations to the NorShor.

The company also plans to renovate the entire Temple Block in downtown Duluth between First and Second Avenue E. on Superior Street. Plans are to convert the NorShor from a movie theater into a playhouse, according to Christine Seitz, Executive and Artistic Director of the Duluth Playhouse, located in The Depot. The renovations to the NorShor are projected to cost around $10 million.

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"It will be a performance arts center," Seitz said. "They will open up the balcony, it will become one theater again instead of carved up into the two theaters, it will seat roughly around 750, it will have an orchestra pit, the stage will be expanded… everything the NorShor needs to support practical theater groups."

They plan to use Westlake Reed and Leskosky, an architectural firm based out of Cleveland that specializes in renovating historic theaters. According to Seitz, they have remodeled dozens of theaters across the country.

"They're historic theater restoration specialists. That's what they do," Seitz said. "They understand hurdles and limitations of old theaters like this… and the importance of restoring the theater to its grandeur… before (it) kind of (fell) apart, here."

Seitz sees renovating the NorShor as preserving a bit of history in Duluth. "The Norshor is, of course, the last remaining historic theater we have, in Duluth," Seitz said.

The NorShor opened in the Temple Opera Block on July 11, 1941, according to an article from the Duluth News Tribune the same year. Originally, the theater featured 1,400 seats, hearing aids that could be obtained from the doorman, and even a milk bar, so patrons could enjoy a malt during the evening's feature.

Over the decades, the theater has been tossed from owner to owner. It has seen extensive renovations over its life. The theater's focus changed from movies to  performing arts, hosting comedy nights and musical performances, including the first Homegrown Music Festival in May, 1999. But the theater now sits closed, due to code violations. Renovations will make the NorShor more handicap accessible, so the theater complies with current standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Duluth Playhouse hopes to host as many performances as possible when the renovations to the NorShor are complete. They want the venue to accommodate multiple theater disciplines, and wish to have events in NorShor every weekend when it is finally reopened.

"The goal is there is something going on every weekend in that venue," Seitz said. "(We will) get as much as we can as often as we can."

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