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Embassy Theatre hammers through to $10 million renovation project

The work also includes the adjacent Indiana Hotel

Wednesday, July 9, 2014 - 6:50 am

When the only ground you own lies underneath your historic building, holding a groundbreaking requires a little imagination, Embassy Theatre Executive Director Kelly Updike said.

So as construction crews worked on the upper floors, Embassy Theatre officials took to the building's stage Tuesday with 3-pound sledge hammers to hold a ceremonial "wall breaking" to officially announce the start of $10 million in renovations to the 1928 structure and adjacent Indiana Hotel

Their swings punched holes in a temporary wall set up on stage for the event. Then Embassy and project officials pushed over the wall to reveal a banner depicting how areas of the theater and hotel will look after renovations are completed by late 2015.

The "A Vision for the Embassy" project, which will help make the Embassy self-sustaining, will transform unused upper floors of the theater and Indiana Hotel into vibrant spaces, including a two-story ballroom on the sixth and seventh floors, a rooftop garden area, learning center and more. Most of the space has not be used in 40 years.

The renovations also include installing bars in the theater lobby, adding a lounge/bar area on the second floor, remodeling the Embassy box office area and adding dressing rooms on the lower level, a news release said.

"It's wonderful! Absolutely fantastic!" Bob Nickerson, 76, of Fort Wayne, said of the plans after the event.

Nickerson, who took part in the ceremonial wall breaking, was part of a group of local people who came together in the early 1970s to save the theater from demolition.

Another member of that group was the late Robert Goldstine, who led the fight to save the theater and also helped restore, maintain and play its ornate Grande Page Theater Pipe Organ. In June 2013, his Robert Goldstine Foundation provided the lead donation of $2 million toward the "A Vision for the Embassy" project.

So far, the Embassy has raised about $7.3 million in donations and grants, a news release said.

Construction actually started in May, Updike said.

Crews have nearly completed the removal or abatement of lead paint and a limited amount of asbestos, she said. Demolition of old hotel rooms and other space is about 35 percent completed and will continue through the summer.