The Journal Gazette
Thursday, March 10, 2016 6:10 am

Theater's facelift revealed

Rosa Salter Rodriguez | The Journal Gazette

Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry said the project created "a community jewel." Building contractor Larry Weigand said it was one of his company’s most challenging accomplishments.

Kelly Updike, executive director of Embassy Theatre, said she was overcome with emotions – "joy, gratitude, a little bit of fear and a whole lot of pride."     

As about 250 donors sipped wine, nibbled on canapés and oohed and aahed during building tours Wednesday evening, Embassy officials officially unveiled the more than $10 million in renovations that turned the mothballed former Indiana Hotel into part of an expanded Embassy.

Henry said completion of the project capped decades of work to save the structure from the wrecking ball.

The hotel opened in 1928, he said, but fell on hard times until a group of community members began working to reopen the former Emboyd Theatre in the 1970s. It and the hotel wrapped around it were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.  

"This is a day we have waited for for quite some time, and it’s finally come to pass," Henry said, standing in a new, two-story ballroom created on the sixth and seventh floors by removing tons of concrete flooring.

Among other features of the revamped site are a rooftop patio with a spectacular view of downtown, additional dressing rooms for visiting performers, office and conference room space, classrooms and meeting rooms for educational programs, a mezzanine lounge and a small museum on the first floor.

Embassy officials said many of the spaces will be available for rent as venues for weddings and corporate and organizational events.

An event to show off the facilities to the public is being planned for 2 to 7 p.m. March 30, and a celebration ball and concert by the Avett Brothers will take place April 19.  

Weigand told attendees that workers had to be creative and take into consideration the historic nature of the building during the demolition and construction, which began in 2014.

Workers carted 1.4 million pounds of demolition debris out of the building, much of it "the old-fashioned way" in wheelbarrows, he said.

At one point, workers brought a 24-foot reinforcing steel beam in through a window.

"It was 16 months of blood, sweat and tears, and yes, sometimes there are tears because, in buildings like this, sometimes you take a wall out and there’s another wall behind it, and another wall beyond that. And the plumbing that’s supposed to be here is actually over there," Weigand said.

"The tradesmen, the engineers, the laborers, were so proud to be on this project. We had guys call us and ask to be put on this project because they wanted their fingerprints on this job," he said.

Carolyn Brody of Fort Wayne, who co-chaired the capital campaign that began in 2013 with a $2 million donation from the Robert Goldstine Foundation, said imminently expected donations will raise the total collected to $9.2 million.

That leaves about $800,000 to be financed, she said.

"The Embassy has such a continuing economic impact of the community that we had to do this (project) the right way, and with the right purpose," she said. "The whole community came together – from foundations … to people who saved up $500 or even gave $25.

"This makes me teary," she said, asked how she felt about seeing the work completed.

"It really does."


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