Local News

From Old to New at Civic Auditorium

(La Porte, IN) - A $6.1 million modernization over the past three years has left the Civic Auditorium in La Porte feeling like brand new, but its beloved atmosphere remains historic.


Among the improvements made in the effort included the first use of air conditioning on the main level of the building, originally erected in 1929. The air conditioning system was installed to have more major events during the summer and keep a building that can become a little too warm at heavily attended major events cool, even during the winter.


“It makes the building more user-friendly year round,” said Civic Auditorium Director Brett Binversie.


The addition of air conditioning, along with a new, more efficient heating system, marked the completion of the renovation paid for entirely from the $11 million the city received in federal American Rescue Plan monies, which went to communities nationwide to help in the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.


Other upgrades made last year included replacing the original all-wooden seats in the balcony with wider cushioned plastic framed seats containing cupholders. The aisles and steps in the balcony, which contains 1,160 seats as per Binversie, were also made wider with handrails installed for the safety of spectators navigating to and from their seats. Another 600 to 1,500 people can be seated on the floor.  


The work started in 2021 by placing a new roof on the building. LED lighting was also installed throughout the structure, which improved the quality of the lighting and efficiency, he said. Binversie noted in turn that there were also upgrades to the sound system, allowing bands and other musical performers to use less of their own audio equipment and perform with better acoustics.


He said the primary reason for the investment was to host more revenue-generating major events at the Civic and extend its life as an important facility for more community-related functions.


“It really makes the Civic a little more ready for the next 100 years,” he said.


Shortly after taking office in 2020, Mayor Tom Dermody made the Civic Auditorium one of his top priorities in response to a desire from citizens for more things to do locally. Dermody said he felt the upgrades were necessary to get more use out of the facility and for spectators to want to come back for future events.


“It wasn’t meant to be a museum. It was meant to be used,” he said.


Dermody also wanted to preserve a piece of the city’s heritage, The Civic Auditorium was built and donated to the city for public use by the locally prominent Fox family, who once ran the Fox Woolen Mills for several decades beginning in the late 1800s. Over the years, the Civic Auditorium has hosted anything from weddings, high school proms, and multiple concerts annually by the La Porte County Symphony Orchestra. Occasionally, there have been major entertainers, ranging from the late comedian Bob Hope to former and current country music superstars Randy Travis, Sara Evans, and Clint Black.


There have also been a lot of concerts over the past two years from tribute bands, with a Jimmy Buffet tribute act having previously played on May 11th, a Van Halen tribute band scheduled for May 31st, and a Neil Diamond tribute concert set for June 9th.


For the past three years, the facility has also hosted an ESPN-televised basketball invitational featuring the top college prep school talent in the country.


Another goal of the investment is to make the Civic Auditorium totally self-sufficient, with Binversie saying that the amount of tax dollars used to fund the facility has dropped from about $297,000 in 2020 to $68,000 this year.


“The Civic is a one of a kind and we need to take care of what we have. We’re certainly doing that with the Civic Auditorium,” Dermody said.

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