Groundbreaking marks start of $4.7 million project
Officials broke ground on a renovation project at the Solvang Festival Theater on Monday morning, beginning a rebuilding effort that officials say will preserve the entertainment venue for many years to come.
Dozens of city officials, local donors and members of the Theaterfest Board of Directors gathered while part of Second Street was shut down for the project’s official groundbreaking. Attendees took turns taking whacks at one of the theater walls with sledgehammers, which began a $4.7 million renovation project that will make various upgrades to the 47-year-old establishment.
Over the next 10 months, contractors from Specialty Construction will replace the theater’s original utility poles with steel columns to improve the building’s structural integrity.
Then, when rebuilding the interior walls, workers will increase the wall height from six feet to 14 feet. Officials say the height increase will help shield audience members from the cool breeze in the evening and create better acoustics.
Contractors will also be upgrading the outdoor theater’s electrical, lighting and sound technology, as well as improving accessibility outside the theater with new approach ramps to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act standards. The new upgrades are expected to be completed by July 2022.
Officials say each of these upgrades is meant to create a more enjoyable theater experience and preserve the legacy of the beloved venue, which has been a center for entertainment in the Santa Ynez Valley for more than four decades.
“For the community, the (renovations) not just ensure that Theaterfest is going to be here for generations to come — it’s going to be an even better Theaterfest,” Chris Nielsen, the chair of the Theaterfest Board of Directors, told the News-Press.
The new renovations are made possible by dozens of community members and local organizations who donated to the Solvang theater’s fundraising effort over the last three years.
Thus far, the Theaterfest board has raised about 80% of the $4.7 million needed for the rebuilding project.
During Monday’s event, representatives from the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians presented the Theaterfest board with a $100,000 check, leaving the fundraising effort with just $995,000 to go.
“This theater means so much to this community,” Veronica Sandoval, the chief tribal operations and communications officer for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, told the crowd on Monday. “When the Chumash Foundation learned of the renovation project that would improve infrastructure, enhance accessibility and upgrade technical capacity for the theater, we pledged $100,000 to help raise funds for the project.”
She praised the Theaterfest Board of Directors for persevering with the fundraising effort through the uncertainty of the pandemic, holding tight to the vision of “rebuilding the future of the theater.”
“It’s a project we are happy to support and a community we are proud to be a part of,” she added.
Dozens of donors who contributed to the renovation project were present at Monday’s groundbreaking event, including Ken and Jane Heinly. The pair are part-time Solvang residents who are longtime lovers of the theater and donated to the renovation to ensure that “Solvang stays Solvang” for years to come.
“(Renovating the theater) means a lot because what we have enjoyed we certainly want the next generation to get to enjoy,” Ms. Heinly told the News-Press. “The outdoor theater festivities are just wonderful to experience, and I think everyone should get that chance.”
Santa Barbara County Supervisor Joan Hartmann was also in attendance at Monday’s event, coming out to show support for the theater project and fundraising effort. She told the News-Press that the renovations will draw “even finer acts” to the theater in the future.
“(The theater) is really our community center, the heart and soul,” Ms. Hartmann said. “It’s where children come and perform. It’s where you can have reunions and events in the garden. And have the best performances. PCPA is just as good as Broadway in my view.
“I hope that (the renovations) will continue to draw top entertainment — even more of it.”