BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - It’s been about a year since the Saenger Theater in Biloxi closed down to fix major issues outside and inside the historic building.
After federal money never came through, renovations were delayed. Now, things are finally lining up to begin the first phase of renovation. On Wednesday, four bids for the exterior work were opened by the City of Biloxi. It’s going to take the city 30 days to review all the bids, and then there must be approvals before any work can begin. For those who love the Saenger the most, it will be worth the wait.
“First, the arts touch us all,” said longtime performing arts community member Rafe O’Neal. “And that’s what this building is, a sacred homage to the arts, and it has weathered many storms and continues to inspire.”
The first show he saw at the Saenger was the musical “Cleavage,” written and produced by the Sheffield Ensemble Theater.
“Watching that show right about where I’m sitting now is when I realized this is what I want to do for a living,” he said. “And I’m almost 50 years old now, and I’m doing what that show inspired me to do, which is an amazing and wonderful thing. The power of theater at work.”
Plans are for the fly tower above the stage to be reconstructed. That’s where most of the damage is to the theater, but bids for exterior work also include sealing the brick siding on the north, south and east sides of building, replacing the roof and the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems.
“The Saenger Theater is a gem for Mayor (Andrew 'FoFo’) Gilich with this downtown revitalization project, this has been one of the main points,” said Cecilia Dobbs-Walton with the City of Biloxi. “It’s right on the corner of all the growth that is coming in, so it only makes sense to repair this and to bring it back to its glory so it can be used.”
The city will pay for the work, which will cost an estimated $2 million. Officials hope the work will start by summer. The plan is to get the outside done first before shifting the focus to the extensive damage to the inside. That will take even more time, especially when following historic building guidelines.