Dreams of plush purple fade to black as Byrd Theatre declines new seats

Posted at 1:09 AM, May 09, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-09 01:11:44-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) Many Byrd Theatre goers will be bummed to hear of the theater’s decision to politely decline the gift of luxurious new lavender seats from the Cannes’Grand Théâtre Lumière.

But the organizers do promise they are working towards a solution.

The Cannes organizers were aware of the Byrd’s seat issues due to its involvement with the French Film Festival in Richmond, and they offered 1,200 seats to be used on a temporary basis. 

On Wednesday the Byrd Theatre Foundation Board of Directors voted
unanimously to decline the very generous offer.

While the board was “unbelievably humbled” by the gesture, they had to consider the hidden costs of the offer.

“Ultimately our decision was based on the significant out-of-pocket expense to the Foundation, as well as the uncertainty regarding the possible impact on the historic tax credits, which are critical to the Theatre’s restoration,” said Melissa Savenko, Foundation President.

The impact on pending restoration plans, the logistical barriers and the
existing timeline with respect to historic tax credits were cited as the biggest
concerns in the matter.

Then there were the logistical costs to consider, of removing and installing the seats, as Savenko spelled out in a press release.

Savenko explained that the seats from the Grand Théâtre Lumière are constructed with a center bracket, versus the Byrd’s current model using brackets on either side.

The installation of these seat brackets poses potential risk in damaging the floor.

“Accepting these seats as a temporary measure is simply cost prohibitive at this
time, as we expect overall restoration to be completed by 2017 –– including
brand new seats,” said Gibson Worsham, Foundation Vice President and Chair of Restoration. Worsham didn’t want to jeopardize the timetable for receiving historic tax credits.

The Byrd Theatre Foundation purchased the Byrd Theatre in 2007. Their first task was to replace the leaking roof.

Since 2012, the Byrd Theatre Foundation has raised over $1.5 million for critical
improvements, including replacing the boiler, acquiring a digital server,
completing necessary organ repairs, and replacement of the HVAC system,
which is currently ongoing and expected to be completed by Fall 2014.

Restoration plans are forthcoming, promised inside 60 days.

Milestones include:

● Marquee – restoration & replacement
● Bathrooms – expansion and accessibility
● Ornamental Finishings – painting and plaster restoration
● Box Office & Concessions – accepting credit cards

And, new seats, guys. New seats.

“Internally, we’ve been calling it the ‘Journey to the Seats’ campaign,” Board
Member and Marketing Co Chair, James Loving said. “It’s been a long road
squaring up all the estimates, but we’re almost ready to kick things off.”

The Byrd Theatre opened in 1928. It is listed as Virginia Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.