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York’s Capitol Theatre undergoing $1.6M renovation

The Appell Center for the Performing Arts in downtown York - (Photo / Stephanie Benamor)

A $700,000 state grant gives operators of the Capitol Theatre in downtown York the final investment they needed to close the landmark May 1 and undertake major renovations.

The grant was announced Tuesday night at the theater, which is part of the Appell Center for the Performing Arts. The Appell Center includes the adjacent Strand Theatre, which underwent major renovations in the early 2000s. About 60 people attended the announcement event, including community leaders and patrons of the complex.

“Changing the seats alone will make a huge difference,” said Carol Oldenburg, who owns an art shop on East King Street. Oldenburg says she attends about three or four movies per year at the Capitol. “I love the idea of new seating.”

New seats are just one of the major changes planned before the theater reopens Oct. 1, said Todd Fogdall, president and CEO of the Appell Center. The renovations will preserve some of the main features of the building, including the balcony, paint schemes and “Mighty Wurlitzer” organ. In his presentation, Fogdall outlined a number of highlights that include the following:

  1. An enlarged lobby will include a one-stop concession stand that will replace the current system where food and drinks are served from three different places.
  2. The handicapped-accessible bathroom at the entrance will be renovated and improved, as well as the bathrooms in the basement.
  3. A new wall will block sound and light into the theater from the main doors. That will mean losing a few rows of seats.
  4. An area in front of the stage will be cleared out to allow for cabaret-type seating during some events, such as comic acts.
  5. The angle of the balcony seats will be raised slightly to better accommodate viewing of all acts, such as live theater. The angle was set long ago when movies were the only venue, Fogdall said.
  6. A new sight and sound system will be installed.
  7. A new screen will be motorized. Currently, it takes two people to put up and take down the manually operated screen.

Fogall said bid packages will be sent out soon. The goal is to have something special to showcase the renovated theater on Oct. 1 but nothing has been booked yet. Instead of one big event, there might be a series of several events to tout the renovations, he added.

Tony Campisi, co-chair of the sustainability campaign for the complex, said about $1.6 million has been raised for the project. The effort started about five years ago when the campaign first sought to pay off $2.5 million from the 2002-2003 renovation of the Strand, which seats more than 1,200 people compared to about 450 seats at the Capitol. That campaign was so successful that money was left over to seed an eventual renovation of the Capitol, said Campisi, who is president and CEO of Glatfelter Insurance Group.

The grant from the state pushed the plans into action, he said.

Richard P. Vilello Jr., deputy secretary for the state Department of Community and Economic Development, said the state grant was cobbled together from several sources.

Viello, who is a former mayor of Lock Haven, said such projects have been fruitful for downtowns statewide, and York is on the right track.

“York is facing challenges,” he said before the public meeting. “But when you look at this venue, the arts council, the restaurants, these are the type of things that lead to revitalization and enthusiasm.”

“This type of project is close to my heart,” he said.

The Capitol holds about 125 events per year. The goal is to surpass 200 events, which would include movies, dance, comedy, music and other shows, Fogdall said.

The venue dates to 1906, when it opened as a dance hall on one level. The Appell family bought the venue in 1926.

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