BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - When driving through downtown Biloxi, you can't miss the historic Saenger Theater. After damage from Hurricane Katrina and water intrusion that damaged the plaster walls, a major facelift is needed.
"It's home to many of us artists here on the Coast. There's countless generations of people who have been performing on this stage, and it's just special. You wouldn't let your home deteriorate, so why would you let a gem like this deteriorate," said Anthony Starcher, of Broadway South Repertory.
FEMA allocated $191,000 to fix the interior of the building after the roof was blown off during Hurricane Katrina, but it wasn't enough. Where FEMA funds fall short, community members are doing what they can to come up with the extra $400,000 for the needed exterior work.
"I think that the Saenger has always been, since 1929, the cornerstone of everything that goes on in this part of town. When you think about it, it's a great marquee for the city, and when you drive up Reynoir Street, it's the first thing you see. For so many years, people have gathered at this place and found joy here, and that's sort of my motivation. I want to keep that going," said Rafe O'Neal, of Broadway South Repertory.
The Saenger Theater is a popular landmark for the Vieux Marche and downtown Biloxi. The facility can seat nearly 1,000 people, but seats have remained empty. Biloxi residents say getting the extra needed funds to help get the theater back in tip-top shape will get those seats full again.
"I think this will definitely be a plus for the Biloxi, MS, area to try to put as much money into it as they can and bring back its original luster and beauty," Biloxi resident Jeff Cox said.
"It's definitely the right facility for that. I think it's a unique facility, and it's something that every Saenger in the country is unique in its own way. So, having more opportunities to highlight that will be nothing but a great thing for the community and visitors that come here. It's another attraction. It's another reason to come to the Gulf Coast," Biloxi resident Bryan Bounds said.