Staff reporter and columnist
Cincinnati Business Courier
The Ensemble Theatre has raised $4.2 million that will allow it to reshape the buildings it owns on Vine Street and provide more amenities for its patrons, including a longer season, more programming, a bigger lobby and new, more-accessible seating.
The Over-the-Rhine theater believes the addition of eight performances per show each year will bring another 9,000 patrons and $160,000 in economic impact to Over-the-Rhine. That’s on top of the $762,000 in direct spending by its current 29,567 patrons at OTR restaurants and businesses and the temporary economic impact of the construction jobs and work created by the project. Three out of every four Ensemble patrons eat and drink at local restaurants and bars before or after seeing a show, according to the theater’s survey.
Ensemble owns three buildings at 1117-1127 Vine St. – 40 percent of the block it sits on – which will be renovated as a part of the project. The buildings will be combined into a single, 8,200-square-foot complex.
“We’re doing this without destroying any of the historic buildings,” said producing artistic director D. Lynn Meyers. “This connectivity of the buildings – that’s going to make a huge difference.”
Among the improvements:
A larger box office;
A bigger lobby with more natural light flowing into it;
A dedicated bar and concession area;
An elevator to increase disabled access to upper row seating;
A rehearsal hall and scene/costume shop;
New seats in the 200-person capacity theater;
A potential increase of five to seven staffers in addition to the current 13 full-time employees.
Ensemble has hired GBBN and Messer Construction to renovate its buildings. Ensemble’s theater will be renamed the Lucille and Charles Carothers Theatre to honor the Next Stage Campaign’s leading contributors. Other lead gifts have been made by the Otto M. Budig Family Foundation, Susan Friedlander and the late William A. Friedlander, the Adele and Robert Schiff Foundation, Richard Rosenthal, the Mitchell S. & Jacqueline P. Meyers Foundation, and co-founders Kenneth Mahler and his late wife Mary Taft Mahler and the late Ruth D. and John Sawyer.
Included in its capital stack is $1.2 million in state matching funds and a $200,000 grant from the city of Cincinnati. Groundbreaking is set for May with a summer 2017 completion date. The construction will be done in phases so that Ensemble can continue to have performances and not interrupt the 30-year-old company’s season.
The theater also is seeking another $2 million in public contributions during the second phase of its fundraising campaign. That money will be used to beef up operations during the construction phase and once the new facilities open.
The theater endured in Over-the-Rhine even after the 2001 riots, when it had offers to move out of the neighborhood but stayed. While other theaters have seen subscriptions drop recently, Ensemble’s 2,200 subscriptions have been growing.
“We created a vital destination that people wanted to part of,” Meyers said. “There’s a consistent quality of the productions.”