Last summer, after the curtain fell on New Bedford Festival Theatre's presentation of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Zeiterion Performing Arts Center closed its doors and prepared for the most comprehensive renovations ever done to the 101-year-old building.

Working with a historic building can be a challenge, Zeiterion President & CEO Rosemary Gill said.

The biggest challenge?  "Balancing the need to retain the historic value of the building with bringing it up to a state-of-the-art facility."

State-of-the-art it shall be with a $30 million investment into the facility, which includes all construction, financing, architectural and engineering services.

The next time theatergoers enter the auditorium on opening night, they'll be surrounded by brand-new seating, new sound, new lighting, new flooring, new walls, new tapestry, a new accessible ramp, and a brighter, freshly painted look.

That's only the auditorium. There will be expansion to the lobby and a complete makeover to the four floors at the front of the house.

Zeiterion Theater Auditorium

Brand New Spaces at New Bedford's Zeiterion

Underneath the lobby is a space that will become a small speakeasy, a venue that will fit roughly 120 people.

A member lounge will go above the lobby.

For the first time, the Z will have a movement studio that will be used for rehearsals and dance classes, and a smaller classroom for teaching artists.

"It will be a very welcoming, bustling, vibrant space," Gill said

The project will double the size of the restrooms and bring the men's room up to the main floor. An elevator will be installed to provide access to all four levels of the building, and there will once again be a marquee at the front of the Zeiterion.

Delayed Timeline for Zeiterion Upgrade

"We had anticipated that the project would start last fall, but we have had a delay," Gill said. "We are now expecting the project to start in earnest in May. We've been told that the project will take 15 months once it is started. In the ideal world, that's how this will go."

After the Z staff gets the green light to move back in, they will have to start training on the new lighting, sound and equipment.

"We're already delayed. They haven't started construction yet.  The contractor has not been chosen yet. The whole project is out to bid right now. This is a public project, so we have to follow public procurement. We expect contractors to start submitting the bids in the next few weeks. They're all pre-qualified, so we'll go with the lowest bidder."

Gill isn't letting the delay get to her or the staff. It is what it is.

"Anyone who's done any kind of renovation on a big project since the pandemic knows that supplies are on backorder, and delays happen.  We'll be no different, and we'll just expect those types of things to probably delay us a bit.  We're trying to anticipate as much of that as possible."

Gill is keeping her eye on the ball.

She knows she's on the verge of something extremely special.  Leading the charge for a renovation of a building like the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. That is not lost on her.

"It's going to be a brand-new, very welcoming place where everyone feels a sense of belonging."

The project will likely be Gill's legacy and will be yet another crown jewel in the rejuvenation of New Bedford's downtown.  The final price will not be known until bids are received and the general contractor is selected.  The renovation is being funded by a near-equal mix of private philanthropy money, public funds from the city and state, and historic tax credits.

The Zeitierion Performing Arts Center, opened in 1923, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

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