A study sought to determine how Columbus’ crumbling Crump Theatre could be saved may have the unintended consequence of closing it indefinitely for safety reasons.
Theater renovation experts with Lafayette-based architecture firm Phillips & Jones Associates on Monday presented three renovation plans for the Crump after studying the facility for nearly a year.
The first proposal, at about $10 million, called for renovations that would provide seating for 300 to 450 patrons while adding a new stage and stage roof, known as the “fly house.”
The second option is similar but much bigger, with renovations that could accommodate seating 1,000 patrons, costing more than $22 million. That option would require buying a grassy area and a Cummins Inc.-owned parking lot adjacent to the theater.
The third proposition would be even larger, housing 1,200 seats and costing more than $29 million. That option would require buying the grassy area, parking lot and the building on the corner of Third and Franklin streets.
The building condition and safety problems are center stage in the second and third options, as both call for razing the Crump and starting over from scratch.
Which option to choose, however, is predicated on Crump supporters understanding just how dire the venue’s structural needs are. Consultants said the facility has numerous safety code violations and does not meet basic structural requirements.
Consultants considered an option spending about $2 million to renovate the Crump into a “funky, fun space” that could book about 60 acts a year with a volunteer director. Then they looked at the building and realized, “In the present condition, the building meets no one’s needs.”
Among the consultants’ safety concerns:
The Crump’s roof and stage are not structurally sufficient to support current touring shows.
Load capacity on the Crump stage is 130 pounds per square foot based on its construction; building codes would require 150 pounds per square foot.
The stage floor does not meet current structural building codes.
With the Crump’s wood construction, an automatic sprinkler system would be required to meet fire codes. The Crump does not have any fire-suppression system.
The mechanical room has water damage and is unsafe for people or equipment.
The Crump does not meet current seismic codes based on its construction.
The Crump lacks fire escapes and adequate fire exits.
The Crump does not meet federal requirements for handicapped access.
Karen Shrode, executive director of the Columbus Area Arts Council, said conditions of the building had never been evaluated to the degree that the theater consultants did.
“I always felt that the facility was not safe, but I guess it was made very clear to me that that facility really should not be open again until something is done with it,” she said. “I think it lends a new level of urgency on what needs to be done.”
The consultants were blunt in their assessment of the current structure:
“Safety codes don’t exist to annoy building owners; they exist to protect the lives of the performers and patrons. The safety issues have to be addressed before any other action can be taken. If the community is unwilling to spend the money necessary to make the facility safe, then we recommend removing the neon sign for some future use and then bulldozing the remainder of the building.
“We understand the deep affection that many residents have for the Crump, and we appreciate that the Crump is an important part of the history of Columbus. It is, after all, the last remaining of the original downtown entertainment venues.
“As a firm, Jones & Phillips Associates are committed to historic preservation, but we are also realists — knowing not every building can be saved. If however, the community is willing to spend the money, then we believe that the Crump could meet many of the community needs. The fact that the stage is unsafe and must be rebuilt also solves some of the biggest problems in the space. It allows the rebuild to address the issues of proscenium width, stage depth, wing space, rigging, lighting, electrical issues, loading dock, heating/cooling plant and dressing rooms.”
Mayor Kristen Brown said she liked the two options presented by the consultants to renovate the Crump. But she cautioned that the city needs to wait for a public meeting on the study, planned for April 24, before deciding on a future course.
With the safety concerns, Brown said the fire department will need to take a look at the Columbus Capital Foundation-owned building before it could reopen this spring.
What comparable cities have
Looking beyond safety concerns, the consultants used the Crump as an example of what Columbus lacks in performing art venues.
Cities that are Columbus’ size are bringing in major entertainment acts, the consultants said. But those cities — including Ames, Iowa; Cheyenne, Wyo.; Dubuque, Iowa; and Jefferson City, Mo. — have as many as four or five venues seating between 45 and 1,500 patrons to attract these kind of acts.
Columbus lacks a venue for large theatrical productions and doesn’t have a children’s theater program, something most cities of its size have, the consultants said.
Van Phillips, one of the consultants, said it could be hard to justify spending millions of dollars without a business plan in place.
“The balance always is that there’s a difference between protecting and giving it a new purpose,” he said. “If it’s got an economic engine, it gets reborn, and it stays alive.”
Phillips said the best chance of a surviving Crump is to rethink its future use and stray away from the idea of a performing arts center exclusively.
One of the suggestions brought up by the firm was to add a bar and restaurant that also could bring in revenue.
“There’s lot of people that love the Crump in the version that it’s in now. It’s the one they know,” Phillips said.
But he said a different approach could “make that come alive again and make it any better.”
Gary Robbins, who worked in management at dinner theaters in California and Florida before moving back to Columbus in the 1990s, felt the best idea was to invest the maximum amount of time and money into the Crump.
“I like the idea that they talked about as far as spending a legitimate amount of money, getting it to a legitimate, sound, real theater,” he said. “Don’t do it second-rate. If you’re going to do it, do it right.”
Robbins said if the theater is renovated the right way, it will attract acts that would generate enough money to keep it open and in the black. He said having a full-time bar and restaurant could only help business.
Here are the options presented for creating new performance arts space in Columbus, including renovating the downtown Crump Theatre or creating a new arts venue at the Sears site. The Columbus Capital Foundation Board could choose one or more of the options below for renovations at either or both sites.
Renovate Crump with 450 seats
This proposal would turn the Crump, 425 Third St., into a jewel of a community facility while keeping the façade, lobby and lounge, albeit totally upgraded.
The audience chamber would be reworked and the stage rebuilt; sound and light locks would be added; seating and sight lines would be improved. The facility would have about 300 seats on the first floor and about 150 in the balcony.
Excess space in the balcony could be turned into a meeting room or provide much-needed storage for resident companies.
There would be a place for community theater, for musical events currently held in churches and community centers. A 40-foot-wide stage is still too narrow for The Columbus Indiana Philharmonic but would serve virtually all other uses. Dance classes could do their recitals there; smaller music groups from schools could have a performance space that is better suited to their needs.
Replace Crump with 1,000-seat venue
A new 1,000-seat venue on the Crump site would result in demolition of the existing Crump Theatre.
New building footprint would include south alley, east grass area and the Wells Fargo surface parking lot. A lobby would be at the rear of the house, with audience seating on three levels.
The stage would be redone, and a full basement for performer support and mechanical/electrical infrastructure would be provided.
The fundamental assumption would be the ability to acquire the Wells Fargo property. Although able to provide 1,000 seats, the option is very constrained for space. There is no opportunity for patron drop-off or pickup at the front entry. No on-site space is available for public restrooms.
There are no public restrooms on the first floor, where most patron seats are located. Instead, they are shown on the second and third floors in the adjacent building, accessed by an enclosed bridge over the alley. The team feels this option will provide a less than desirable patron and performer experience for the expenditure required.
Construct Road House on Crump site
Most of the Crump would be dismantled and a roadhouse would be constructed. This is predicated on taking over the entire quarter-block and the alley behind the theater. Even with those additions, the site is small for a venue of this type. In order to make this option work, nearly all of the building is torn down and rebuilt. The Crump sign could be saved and reused, and the architecture would pay homage to the current look, but it would not duplicate the 56-foot-wide building.
This option also would meet some of the needs of the community. The Philharmonic could use this facility, for example. It would be too large for many small community groups but would allow for professional entertainment to be booked in Columbus. Using only the main floor would make it a good size for many family entertainment events. In addition, it could be used as an adjunct to many downtown festivals. Booking road shows into the community would support destination tourism and keep in Columbus dollars that citizens are now spending in Louisville, Nashville, Bloomington and Indianapolis.
At 450 to 550 seats, the facility could address some of the area’s unmet meeting-room needs.
Performing Arts Center at Sears site
As part of a new performing arts center, an auditorium would be built on the footprint of the former Sears store, 222 Commons Mall, and attach to the back of the YES Cinema and IUCA+D buildings. The auditorium would seat 1,200 patrons, would have a loading dock and lobby space.
The center also would have a convention center space.
Cost: About $30 million
Center on Sears site; convention center, IUCA+D connected
The site of the former Sears building would turn into a convention center. The YES Cinema and IUCA+D building would stay in their current places but could utilize the new convention areas and lobby spaces.
To the west of the Sears site would be a second building, part of the arts center, that would house a 1,200-seat auditorium with lobby space, a loading dock and office space. This is across the street from the retail store, where the auto center and a parking lot was located.
As part of this option, the Crump’s existing stage would be closed at its downtown location, and the facility would be brought up to code and renovated for about $4 million. There would be a small stage space at the Crump, but the large performance venue would be at the Sears site.
Cost: Not yet available