Newburgh theater looks to the future

Ritz fundraising push is on

Times Herald-Record

CITY OF NEWBURGH — Almost 70 years ago Lucille Ball got her start performing on stage at the Ritz Theater on Broadway, alongside her husband, Desi Arnaz.

If the people behind the latest effort to restore the Ritz have their way, in the not-too-distant future, it will be launching the careers of a new generation of performers.

They took another step in that direction Wednesday night with a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the completion of the theater’s box office.

That was accomplished thanks to a $200,000 grant from Urban Initiatives, a program of the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal.

The theater already is hosting events — including an annual guitar concert series and an annual kids’ talent contest — in the lobby, which was previously restored. The lobby seats 125, but the fully-restored theater itself will accommodate 825.

Trisha Haggerty Wenz, executive director of the theater, would like to open by 2014. That’s a tall order, considering the restoration will cost an estimated $12 million. Wenz said that will likely have to come from a combination of private, foundation and maybe even government money.

Wenz concedes it’s a challenging time to be fundraising, but says, “We can’t wait for a non-challenging time.”

Theater board President James Beard concurs, saying, “Newburgh is really ready for a live performing arts venue.”

Backers also see the theater as an economic booster for the community. Mayor Nick Valentine said he’s seen a similar theater in operation in Peekskill, and it also generates business for restaurants and other establishments in the neighborhood. “At 11 o’clock at night, (theatergoers) were out on Main Street, going to get coffee,” Valentine said. “They weren’t hopping in their cars and going home.”

Noting how many patrons the restaurants along the city waterfront draw, Beard said he hoped the theater could lure them up to Broadway to check out the Ritz.

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