(La Porte, IN) - About a $6 million renovation is planned at the Civic Auditorium in La Porte to make things more comfortable for people attending the growing number of events at the historic venue.
The upgrades include replacing the original wooden seats in the structure built in 1929.
Aisles between the seating areas will be widened and hand rails added to improve safety while climbing up and down the stairs to and from the seats.
Air conditioning will also be installed to allow for more events during the summer when the temperature inside the gymnasium and formal stage on the main level can become rather sweltering. A new heating system will also be installed to replace one of the boilers from the 1960’s.
Civic Auditorium Brett Binversie said the work is scheduled to begin on June 11 and finish August 25.
“We’re trying to make the experience a little better for everyone,” he said.
There are more than 1,000 seats above the gymnasium floor and formal stage.
Over the years, the facility has been used for a wide variety of events ranging from musical concerts and shows by major, regional and local performers to circuses, basketball games and the annual Veterans’ Day ceremony.
After taking office in 2020, Mayor Tom Dermody feeling the facility was used too sparingly sought to bring in more events drawing good sized paying crowds. He wanted to make the city-owned facility more self-sustaining and provide additional entertainment options.
The outcome has included several concerts by classic rock tribute bands last year and twice hosting nationally televised basketball tournaments featuring some of the most talented players in the country. More classic rock tribute band concerts are scheduled to perform in the coming weeks and months.
Dermody believes the original seats being narrow and without cushioning along with lack of air conditioning hurt the facility’s ability to reach its full potential. The already chosen new seats are wider, cushioned and have cup holders to place drinks ordered from the concession stand
“It’s called progress and now it’s time,” he said.
Handicapped seating will also be created.
”It’s a win, win for everybody and we can’t wait for this to occur,” Binversie said.
The building already with air conditioned space in the basement for banquets, meetings and other functions was donated to the city in 1930 by Maurice Fox.
He was the son of Samuel Fox, owner of Fox Woolen Mills and major employer for decades beginning in the late 1800’s, according to history. As a tribute to his parents, the younger Fox had the building constructed to reflect his vision of a facility for use by the general public.
He donated the structure to the city in 1930.
To preserve some of the history, Binversie said an attempt will be made to repurpose some of the original seats and use the same color schemes currently inside the gymnasium during the renovation.
Funding for the work will come primarily out of the $11 million in COVID-19 relief money the city received from the federal government.
“We’ve invested so now let’s see the return and bring even bigger names people can expect to see right here in LaPorte,” Dermody said.