AKRON, Ohio – There’s more of Akron’s “Jewel on Main Street” to sparkle now, thanks in part to a capital campaign that just wrapped up, Akron Civic Theatre officials said.

What You Need To Know

  • With its renovated entry arcade and grand lobby, the Akron Civic Theatre has expanded into the historic Whitelaw Building and added amenities overlooking Lock 3 Park

  • More than 130,000 people attend events at the Civic each year, contributing more than $8 million to city’s economy

  • Still to come are an exterior video wall and large deck overlooking Lock 3 Park, and a donor wall by glass artist Nancy Gong on South Main Street

  • A grand reopening of the Civic Theatre is planned for the week of Aug. 9, including a gala and a free open house

Surpassing a goal of $8.5 million, the “Staging the Future” campaign enabled completion of the restoration of the Akron Civic Theatre’s entry arcade and grand lobby, which were partially restored through a campaign 20 years ago, and the additon of new stages and amenities overlooking the city's Lock 3 Park next door.

Words can’t do the restored venue justice, said Mayor Dan Horrigan Friday, during an event marking completion of the campaign.

“The theater occupies a very important and unique role in the life of Akron,” Horrigan said. “Marking the completion of this campaign, I think, is extremely significant. Not only is the Civic one of the most cherished historical and architectural gems, it's a crucial asset to the arts and culture of the city.”

More than 130,000 people attend events at the Civic each year, contributing more than $8 million to city’s economy, Horrigan said.

“This impact will continue to grow as we witness the rebirth and recovery of downtown,” he said.

The Civic Theatre interior was designed to resemble a Moorish castle with colorful Mediterranean decor, from carvings and European antiques to Italian alabaster sculptures. The theater features a domed "atmospheric ceiling," one of five left in the country, the Civic says, with stars and intermittent clouds moving across the horizon. 

Akron Civic Theatre's grand staircase

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation donated $4 million early in the campaign, with GAR Foundation donating $1 million, officials said. The state contributed $675,000 and the balance came from individuals, businesses and other foundations.

“The community’s generosity and willingness to invest in the future of the Akron Civic Theatre — especially through uncertain and challenging times — is a real testament to the optimistic spirit of our residents and leaders,” Executive Director Howard Parr said in a release.

A grand reopening celebration of the Civic Theatre is planned for the week of Aug. 9, including a gala on Saturday, Aug. 14, and a free open house on Sunday, Aug. 15.

Attendees will be able to see the new administrative offices, as well as a new 200-plus seat performance area — the John, James and Clara Knight Stage — built through restoration and reconstruction of the historic Whitelaw building adjoining the Civic. Another stage area, Wild Oscar’s, will be the Civic’s third performance area, the Civic said.

Last year, massive murals were created on the north and south facing walls of the Civic. Still to come are an exterior video wall on the south side overlooking Akron’s Lock 3 Park, and a large deck, officials said.

A donor wall on the exterior elevator shaft on South Main Street will be developed by Rochester, New York-based glass artist Nancy Gong

With this campaign, the grand lobby and entry arcade were restored to the grandeur of the theater’s 1929 opening, as well as the classic three-window box office, now accessible from the arcade, the Civic said.  

A startling demarcation line high on the lobby ceiling is now gone. The line had illustrated precisely where the vivid color restoration ended from the earlier campaign, whose focus had been to restore the theater’s structural integrity for another century.

akron civic lobby
A demarcation on the lobby ceiling shows where the Civic's renovation left off 20 years ago.

The Civic Theatre is also a major element of the Bowery District, a recently redeveloped block on South Main Street in Akron’s central business district between Bowery Street and Lock 3 Park.

The Bowery includes residential, restaurants and retail units. Behind that strip offers access to the banks of the Ohio & Erie Canal, which flows through and under the downtown business district. 

“It’s thrilling to be part of all the projects that are coming together to facilitate the rebirth of downtown Akron,” Parr said. “The timing couldn’t be better: we’re completing the Civic’s renovation and expansion project along with other South Main Street construction just as we’re starting to see light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. It’s truly going to be a new era for Akron.”

Lock 4 Park, featuring a canalway waterfall and 24/7 multicolored lighting, is also situated behind the Civic and the Bowery.