MILWAUKEE - While the Marcus Center lay vacant due to the coronavirus pandemic, the downtown Performing Arts Center invested in a renovation of Uihlein Hall, unveiled after nine months of development.
"If you’ve been to the Marcus Center in the past, this is going to look completely different than what you’ve seen," said Kendra Whitlock Ingram, president and CEO. "First big difference is going to be the aisles that are placed throughout the orchestra level."
Guests will notice new seats, a new seating configuration utilizing multiple aisles, increased public health and safety amenities and enhanced ADA accommodations when the doors open May 7.
"As we realized the pandemic was going to last far longer than any of us could have initially anticipated, we recognized an opportunity to focus on making important improvements to our space while the venue was closed," said Whitlock Ingram. "After speaking with resident companies, including the Milwaukee Ballet and Florentine Opera, our top priority quickly became renovating the seats in Uihlein Hall."
Prior to the renovations, seating in Uihlein Hall was arranged in a continental style, meaning all seats were located in one large central section without center aisles. Adding two main aisles and dividing seats into three sections makes the theater more accessible for all patrons.
"I mean the aisles, the upgraded seating, the colors of the new paint in the hall," said Whitlock Ingram. "We tripled the number of wheelchair-accessible seats with multiple locations throughout the venue."
In making room for the new aisles, they had to remove about 150 seats, bringing max capacity to around 2,100.
"This kind of project where you don’t have to walk across 50 people to get to your center seat, where you have more spaces for people who are wheelchair-bound, all of these things really kind of played into things that are really going to enhance the patron experience," said Whitlock Ingram.
The $4 million project was made possible through the generous support of donors, including two lead donors: a $1 million gift from Donna and Donald Baumgartner and a major gift from an anonymous donor. Renovations also were made possible through a generous grant from the Herzfeld Foundation.
"The continued support and generosity of donors made it possible not only for our company to make it through a tumultuous year, but also gives us the opportunity to return to live performances in an improved theater that will offer a world-class patron experience," said Florentine Opera General Director and CEO Maggey Oplinger. "Our artists are thrilled to be among the first to perform in this beautiful space as we begin bringing live musical performances back to the Milwaukee arts community."
In addition to new seats in the hall, patrons will see a new ticketless entry process, increased hand sanitation stations, floor markings encouraging social distancing and signage displayed throughout the facility to serve as a reminder to wear masks correctly, maintain social distancing, wash/sanitize hands and inform patrons of capacity limits in restrooms. Capacity limits for each theatre have also been temporarily reduced in accordance with city health guidelines.
Additional updates include the optimization of a state-of-the-art HVAC System that continually introduces fresh outside air and circulates it out of the building every 17 to 20 minutes, along with a new air filtration system that utilizes needlepoint bipolar ionization technology to further clean the air and free it of particles that could be carrying and spreading viruses or other bacteria.
For more information on how the Marcus Center is keeping patrons safe at performances this spring, CLICK HERE.