BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Biloxi is finally closing the Saenger Theater for long overdue restoration work. The 88-year-old building is in desperate need of repairs.
City leaders had to find money in the general fund after being turned down by the federal government to use Community Development Block Grants. The price tag for the repair work is $700,000.
"We are looking at the outside of the building first. Of course, that has to be done before you work on the inside. That will be the exterior walls, the roof and the AC vents on top of the building," said Biloxi Spokeswoman Cecilia Dobbs-Walton.
A design plan for the exterior work will be created and then that bid will go out. After those repairs are completed, a similar procedure will be done for the work inside the Saenger.
Over its illustrious history, the Saenger has been used by theater groups, has hosted dance recitals, and has been a venue for a variety of community events. The Saenger is a big part of the city's plan to revitalize the downtown area with an emphasis on the ambitious project to bring two-way traffic back to Howard Avenue.
"The mayor has said a number of times that the Saenger Theater is a gem in Downtown Biloxi," Dobbs-Walton said.
Biloxi has done several repair projects over the years at the Saenger, none of which have solved the ongoing problems. Supporters of the theater have expressed frustration, but it all comes down to money.
Biloxi's original plan to use Department of Housing and Urban Development grants to do the work ran into a roadblock when HUD determined the project did not meet federal guidelines. Biloxi then began the process of searching for the money to do the work.
"Then we had to move money around in the city budget to still be able to do this work. It's a very important project," according to Dobbs-Walton.
Biloxi is expected to put the project up for bid in the next month or so. Meanwhile, the city has already contacted groups who booked the Saenger for events in the coming months and told them they would have to use the Biloxi Civic Center, the Gruich Community Center, or the auditorium at Biloxi Upper Elementary School.
Biloxi hopes to reopen the theater later this year.