Closed due to the pandemic, the Altria Theater is taking advantage of its time out of the spotlight.
With no reopening in sight, the 94-year-old theater at 6 North Laurel St. is getting a new coat of paint and upgrades to its HVAC system.
Upgrades were first discussed early in the year and planned for the summer, but COVID-19 accelerated the process, said Tim Miller, director of sales and marketing for ASM Richmond, which manages Altria Theater, Bon Secours Training Center and Dominion Energy Center.
“When the pandemic occurred, we were able to accelerate the work that needed to be done within the theater,” Miller said. “We can’t do anything anyways; we might as well take advantage of this opportunity to get this done more quickly and more efficiently.”
Miller declined to disclose the budget for this series of renovations, which are being handled by construction company Gilbane.
The work follows a major series of renovations from 2012-2014 that cost $63 million and were funded by tax credits as well as private and city funding. Work was done to repair the facade, revamp restrooms, parlors and seats in the grand tier, balcony and orchestra; enhance back-of-house areas and administrative offices; and modernize the theater’s audio-visual and lighting systems.
The theater, which is owned by the city, is overseen by the Richmond Performing Arts Company and managed by ASM.
Miller said ASM Richmond didn’t know in the first wave of upgrades that more renovations would be needed for the 3,565-person theater, but climate control issues necessitated more work.
The projects were done with care to maintain the historic theater’s look and feel, Miller said, as the original paintwork and tiles were matched using archived photos. Paint repair then proceeded with intricate decorative stencils that preserved the Altria Theater’s timeless character.
COVID-19 has been the entertainment industry’s worst nightmare, and Altria Theater’s staff hasn’t been spared. ASM Richmond’s 40-person staff shrunk by 75-80 percent via furloughs and layoffs, Miller said. Cost cutting has taken place instead of fundraising this year, but that could change in 2021, Miller said.
“We haven’t been able to have a show of any kind in Altria Theater since the pandemic occurred,” Miller said, adding that there’s a show planned for 2021 but no definitive timeline for returning to normal. “As with everything, it’s a very fluid situation.”