NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Those who oversee the operation of Chrysler Hall say while the taxpayers won’t likely be funding mass renovation anytime soon, it doesn’t mean the renovations aren’t of the utmost importance.

It’s one of the reasons that a “Chrysler Hall foundation” may be in the works, in order to try and raise money from private donors to guarantee a second act for the 50-year-old theater.

Built in 1972 and billed as Hampton Roads’ largest performing arts center, Norfolk city leaders have been publicly discussing the need for significant improvements at Chrysler Hall since 2017. In 2020, the city was planning to close the hall and fund the estimated $40 million worth of work.

But then COVID-19 happened and the project was put off in an effort to offset a loss in city revenues. Two years later, City Manager Chip Filer announced the project costs had more than doubled to a projected $90 million. This time, he recommended City Council consider taking the project off the table completely.

“Significant investment in building system upgrades and back of the house renovations are necessary to continue to attract top-tier shows and performers,” Filer said in a letter to council. “That said, timing and circumstances have conspired to make this project difficult to fund. In many ways, it is the right project at the wrong time.”

Filer said $134 million is now needed for a Downtown Floodwall Project grant match.

But the project may find its way back into the budget down the road. Filer said he must see “substantial financial commitments from our philanthropic community” first.

In order to kick-start those efforts, John Rhamstine, the longtime director of SevenVenues which manages Chrysler Hall, thinks establishing a foundation may be the way to go.

“I don’t think it would be able to fund the entire project but I think it would help contribute to the effort,” Rhamstine said.

Rhamstine didn’t give a timeline for the foundation effort but did say the renovations can’t be put off forever.

“You can only you know, put Band-Aids on things for a short period of time,” Rhamstine said.

In a tour given to 10 On Your Side on Monday, Rhamstine and his team pointed out five major improvements they have already designed and planned for. He said they fall into one of two areas: creature comforts for the audience and client services.

Creature comfort improvements:

The lobby, theater entrances and seating itself have all passed their useful lifespans, Rhamstine said.

He said many times, the lobby is shoulder-to-shoulder ahead of a show with guests crowding the merchandise and concession stands. Rhamstine said only having one bathroom for men and women on the first floor also leads to lines.

Plans call for the lobby to be expanded out more than 10 feet to the support pillars of the building. A new entrance to the rear of the theater would free up space on the right and left sides of the house for additional restrooms.

Finally, the 2,500-seat theater would lose more than 100 seats in order to create two aisles down to the orchestra pit. Currently, the theater uses what is known as “continental seating” which means there are only two ways to enter and exit each row.

Back of house improvements:

Backstage improvements include a new three-door loading dock and the installation of a kitchen and remodeled dressing rooms.

Steven Davis, stage production manager for SevenVenues, said loading in Broadway shows, especially large ones like “Hamilton,” “Lion King” and “Wicked,” has become quite a time-consuming process because the theater only has one loading dock.

“Every single piece of equipment has to come through this door, to get onto that stage,” Davis said. “One door. One truck at a time.”

In addition, the length of the loading dock requires traffic on St. Paul’s Boulevard to be temporarily stopped as big rigs snake their way back onto the pad.

He said that lengthens the loading and unloading process by more than a day or two compared to other theaters.

“That cuts out of your revenue, right off the top just to have the show here,” Davis said.

Plans call for three new loading docks to be built just off the current backstage left. The current loading dock is backstage right.

Also cutting into revenue are conditions below the stage. Aging dressing rooms and no kitchen facility require higher catering costs for each performance. Currently, there are several fridges and an industrial sink. However, it shares space with two bathroom stalls, separated by a curtain.

“If you’ve been here before, you remember being here before,” Davis said referring to performers and techs. “It’s a memorable theater.”