Here’s what we learned from architect team restoring The Ritz in Corpus Christi

The project to revitalize The Ritz Theatre in downtown Corpus Christi is officially underway.

The Ritz Theatre opened its doors in 1929 as one of the largest movie houses in the state. It was closed for a time in the 1970s and reopened as a music hall. But the theater was again closed in 1989.

It sat empty until January 2006, when the nonprofit Corpus Christi PATCH hosted the first event for the Ritz Revival.

Dozens of musical acts have performed at The Ritz, including Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Presley, Joan Jett, Metallica, Rush and Willie Nelson.

OTJ Architects, the Washington-based firm hired by Corpus Christi PATCH, held a Q&A session with city leaders and community members inside the theater on Wednesday.

The theater is expected to open in 3 1/2 years.

City leaders and community members gather at The Ritz Theatre in downtown Corpus Christi to meet with OTJ, the Washington-based architect firm rehabilitating the historic theater, on Wednesday, April 26, 2023.

What stage is the revitalization project in?

A four-week assessment phase of the building began Wednesday, CCPATCH President Monica McLeod Sawyer said.

After that phase is a 10-week plan phase, then another four-week process phase.

“Within 18 weeks, we will have the plan and budget and then launch into a capital campaign,” McLeod Sawyer said.

Gary Martinez, senior principal and studio director with OTJ, said the building is considered “normal” for its 94-year-old age.

What about funding and costs?

McLeod Sawyer said CCPATCH is seeking $500,000 as “seed funding.” The funding will pay for OTJ’s first phases of assessments and planning, completing exterior work including steel repairs and waterproofing, and immediate work such as doors, safety and security.

The total cost of the project is unclear. Martinez said a theater in New Orleans that OTJ worked on cost $45 million to be rehabilitated and restored.

To help raise funds, McLeod Sawyer said an open mic night will be held Wednesday, May 31, at the theater and a “big event” in June, with more information to come.

OTJ Architects staff members, from left, John Easterling, Gary Martinez and Chris Leonberg gather before presenting at a Q&A session with the Washington-based architect firm at The Ritz Theatre in downtown Corpus Christi on Wednesday, April 26, 2023.

How will the space be used?

The theater will focus on music, film and dramatic performances, McLeod Sawyer said.

“For the most part, we want to bring back a lot of the things that were once here,” McLeod Sawyer said. “We will have film again with film festivals and other events. We will have a lot of music and comedy performances. We have a lot of programming that is very specific to nurturing the community.”

McLeod Sawyer said she also sought advice from Austin City Limits Live partner Freddy Fletcher, Willie Nelson’s nephew.

He advised against a “revival”-style event featuring performers who had performed at The Ritz in the past, McLeod Sawyer said.

“He said we need to highlight what makes our community special,” she said. “We need to highlight the artists coming out of our community. We need to show them to the world and show what makes the talent special in Corpus Christi.”

For more information about the restoration, visit ccritz.com.

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John Oliva covers entertainment and community news in South Texas. Contact him at [email protected] or Twitter @johnpoliva.

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