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Curtain rises on Fulton Theatre’s $29M expansion

A view of the planned renovations to the Fulton Theatre on North Prince Street in downtown Lancaster. - (Photo / Submitted)

Marc Robin, the Fulton Theatre’s executive artistic director, was thrilled finally to be able to discuss expansion plans for the historic theater, plans that will remake two blocks of downtown Lancaster.

As part of the $29 million expansion, the theater will get new performance venues, rehearsal space, artist housing and an event space.

“It’s been four-years in the making, and during that time I really couldn’t reveal much about it,” Robin said. 

He helped pull back the curtain on Sunday in front of about 350 people who packed the lobby of the landmark building for the big reveal, dubbed the Breakout Performance Celebration.

“People were packed in. That won’t happen after the expansion — the project will make it a more viable and comfortable space at all times,” Robin said.

A downtown Lancaster landmark since 1852, the Fulton is one of the oldest theaters in the U.S.

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The $29 million project will be completed in phases and impact both the corner of Prince and King streets and Water Street.

A portion of the first phase — updating the stage rigging and upgrading both stage lighting and sound — was recently completed in advance of the Fulton’s Sept. 18 premiere of “Treasure Island.”

Robin said phase one will continue later this month or early November. The focus will be the West King Street portion.

“We’ve been acquiring the properties for the past 17 years. The final piece — the property at the corner of Prince and King — fell into place four years ago. We didn’t have the funds at the time to acquire it, but one of our donors stepped up and made it possible for us to do so. What that means is that the façade along King Street will appear as one continuous building,” he said.

Plans for the King Street construction includes:

• Rebuilding storefronts on the 100 block of West King Street. The top three floors will provide housing in newly renovated apartments for artists visiting the Fulton stage, while the first floor will support new retail opportunities. While it’s too soon to discuss possible new retail tenants, Robin indicated that Rita’s Italian Ice will remain at 4-6 N. Prince St.

• Expanding onsite actor housing to 26 apartments, including one-bedroom apartments, spacious star apartments and comfortable studio apartments. The Fulton’s guest artists often stay at the theater for six to 12 weeks to prepare and perform in productions.

“We have $21 million in funding in place for the first phase, including a $5 million endowment that we will use to sustain the new building once it’s constructed. We still need to raise about $8 million for phase two,” Robin said.

Beginning late 2019, the second phase will focus on the north side of the block with the following plans:

• A sky-lit atrium lobby will bridge the theater’s existing lobby and the Fulton’s education building on Grant Street. The expanded space will allow up to 1,400 patrons to gather. New restrooms planned for the atrium lobby will provide 13 additional facilities. An atrium lobby bar will be a centerpiece for gathering before, during and after performances.

• A private gathering area on the second floor will feature a refreshment area, restroom and a coat room to host the Fulton Theatre’s Producer’s Circle members as well as private parties for the community.

• A performance and rehearsal studio will allow the Fulton to rehearse full productions on-site. The space will feature sprung dance floors and mirrors, and will be two stories high to accommodate all choreographic needs. The rehearsal and performance studio will be able to be transformed into an event space for both Fulton patrons and the community. The space will hold up to 200 people. The exterior of the new rehearsal space also creates an architectural element to Water Street and continues the beautification of Water Street through to the Ware Center.

The project concept was designed by Richard Levengood and RLA Associates with architect of record Tippets Weaver Architects, and will be constructed by Warfel Construction Co.

Robin stressed that the Fulton Theatre will continue to operate on its normal schedule throughout construction and productions will not be interrupted. He said the theater began positioning itself for the expansion with a conscious shift in programming four years ago.

“Our old model was a not-for-profit theater model in which the artistic director selected programming he wanted to do. We’re now more audience-centered, and our main stage theater focuses more on shows audiences want to see like ‘Mamma Mia,'” he explained. “Our studio series is more like the not-for-profit offering: The focus is on topics and subjects we want audiences to talk or think about.”

There’s also a series that focuses on family-themed shows. “It’s important to offer these shows; it encourages the next generation,” he said.

Robin said when he first came to the Fulton a decade ago, there were performances 23 weeks per year, which meant the theater was dark for over half the year. The result of the recent programming shift has been more patrons and more performances, and the need for more space.

“This expansion project will not only impact lives inside the theatre, but it will also have a positive impact on the city as a whole. We want to continue to be the cultural hub of Lancaster,” he said, adding that the project will have an estimated $20 million economic impact on the city and create 360 jobs.

Donations to the campaign can be made at the Fulton Theatre’s box office at 12 N. Prince St., online at fultonbreakout.org, or by contacting a member of the Breakout Performance team at 717-394-7133.

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