Lila Cockrell Theatre/San Antonio Texas

San Antonio Business Journal

Thursday, October 28, 2010

City of San Antonio nearing completion on Cockrell Theater rehab

San Antonio Business Journal – by W. Scott Bailey

The Lila Cockrell Theatre is nearing completion of a $26 million renovation

One door closes and another one opens.

That’s life. And that’s how officials with the City of San Antonio view the changes affecting multiple municipally-owned entertainment venues.

The city expects to hand over the keys to Municipal Auditorium next June to the Bexar County Performing Arts Center Foundation. That nonprofit group plans to transform the historic building into a new home for the San Antonio Symphony and other arts organizations and events.

But while the city will lose control of that venue, it will essentially gain another.

That’s because workers are nearing completion on a $26 million transformation of the aging Lila Cockrell Theatre into a modern, multi-use entertainment facility.

Michael Sawaya, director of the city’s Convention, Sports & Entertainment Facilities department, says that renovation, which began last year, should be completed in a couple of weeks. He says the city has already booked some new business into the municipally-owned venue for later this year.

On Nov. 12, pop singer/actor Rick Springfield, who gained fame in the 1980s with a soap opera role and with the hit single “Jessie’s Girl,” will headline a concert at the Cockrell Theatre.

The Moscow Ballet is scheduled to perform at the theater in December.

The city-owned Cockrell Theatre was built in 1968 for the World’s Fair. It had become a liability — more of a time capsule of HemisFair ’68 architecture than a marketable entertainment venue.

The theater had asbestos issues and accessibility limitations. Some had wondered why the wrecking crews who razed the adjoining HemisFair Arena in the 1990s spared the outdated theater from demolition.

The theater is strategically located between the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and the Grand Hyatt San Antonio convention hotel. The venue fronts a portion of the famous River Walk and, with the multimillion-dollar makeover, could become a key asset.

The city is paying for the Cockrell Theatre improvements with Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue bonds. The upgrades include new lighting, audio and seating systems, as well as improved lobby, concession, restroom and meeting spaces.

The renovated theater will seat nearly 2,500 spectators.

“This place stuck out for the wrong reasons,” Sawaya said before crews began work on the Cockrell Theatre.

But now, he says it will have a new life.

“The newly renovated theater allows us to offer completely modern facilities consistent with the quality of the entire (convention center) complex,” Sawaya explains. “(That) keeps us competitive for conventions and performing arts opportunities in the future.”

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