New venue, more green space part of improvement proposals for Chrysler Hall

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NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A new rehearsal venue, more green space and Chrysler Hall improvements could transform the city’s nearly 50-year-old downtown entertainment complex. 

On Friday, Norfolk City Council was given a first look at an architect’s vision for the transformation of the area surrounding Scope Arena and Chrysler Hall. 

The two entertainment venues were built in 1971 and 1972, respectively, and are showing some age. 

“They’ve gotten tired,” said John Rhamstine, Director of the Department of Cultural Facilities, Arts & Entertainment. “They are just old. They need some tender love and care.”

For the last several years, the city has looked to make improvements to the experience at Chrysler Hall. However, when the city hired VIA Design, a Norfolk-based architecture firm, a direction was given to “reimagine the whole complex,” according to Rhamstine. 

“Chrysler Hall is really our busiest venue in the city,” Rhamstine said. “You need to be able to see it and enjoy it. Right now you walk by and it is very fortress-like. Because that is what architecture was in the 70s.”

Several phases were outlined in VIA Design’s presentation. 

Upgrades to Chrysler Hall will include an expansion of the lobby and additional aisle access to bowl seating, per Rhamstine.

There were also be changes made behind the stage in order to allow for shows to get in and out of the hall. 

“This will help us attract more shows, as it will be a little less expensive for the crew,” Rhamstine said. “This will buy another 40 to 50 years of use.” 

Outside, VIA Design expressed the desire to add more green space to the existing complex. 

The majority of the presentation focused on new rehearsal hall that could be used by the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. 

“Currently, the Symphony doesn’t really have a permanent place to rehearse,” Rhamstine said. “This would provide them that space and give the community a new venue.” 

The design team displayed renderings and profiled a 3D fly through video of four different design options. 

The proposals are all in the early stages of development, and when asked about how much it will cost, City Manager Doug Smith simply replied, “a lot.” 

“The city will contribute some money in the capital program, just as they would any other project,” Rhamstine explained. “But [the city] are going to be looking for donors to help raise money for the project. And then historic tax credits that we can sell, or that can be sold to add more money to the project. So like three pots of money.”

No timeline yet has been established, but Rhamstine said he is ready for action.

“I loved it. I loved it,” Rhamstine said. “I hope I’m here to see it finished in its entirety.”

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