SORG aims to preserve the historic landmark in order to provide and sustain “a majestic performing arts venue for the community,” say Sorg members.
“We intend to offer the people of Middletown and surrounding communities the opportunity to enjoy cultural, educational, civic and corporate events that will entertain, enrich and inspire,” said Walt McRee, SORG vice president for building development. “And we hope to bring the community together to make it happen.”
The group plans to hold an open house for city leaders and the media on Friday, Oct. 5 from 3 to 4 p.m. An open house for the public will follow from 5 to 7 p.m. in conjunction with First Friday and MiddFest. The open house will also be on Saturday, Oct. 6 from 11 a.m to 2 p.m. The Sorg Opera House is located at 63 South Main in downtown Middletown.
During the open house, SORG will introduce its team and its plans for renovating and re-opening the Sorg Opera House to city representatives and give them a special tour of the facility. The public open house will offer the chance to discuss SORG’s plans and project strategies with city neighbors, give them a chance to see the “Old Grand Dame” once again, and draw attention to the building’s current condition.
“The Opera House and commercial building have some serious physical distress right now,” added McRee. “and while we’re focused on getting it stable for the winter and through future storms, we believe that revitalizing this Opera House will be a very rewarding community and regional collaboration.”
The Opera House hasn’t been used as a performance venue since 2010, but SORG hopes to provide regular opportunities for the public to visit and take part in events and performances as the project progresses. “It is hoped that, over time, its original aesthetic charms will be recovered and it will become a new destination for a wide variety of popular activities, interests and events,” added McRee. “Street-level food establishments may share the building with a variety of entertainment options and new spaces for arts, retail, educational and commercial services and spaces.”
SORG is a group of community and culture-minded entrepreneurs who envision the facility as an “upbeat, worthwhile destination for business, pleasure and culture,” filling some of the entertainment void in the area. “We look to build on the many successes downtown, including First Friday, Broad Street Bash, the Pendleton and Beau Verre Riordan buildings, as well as Cincinnati State and Miami,” says Chuck Miller, executive director of SORG. “It’s our hope that the community will come to the Sorg for a broad variety of events and be a part of its rebirth.”
SORG members believe the viability of this project hinges on the growing sense of enthusiasm of Middletown’s community and professional administration and its commitment to revitalization, culture, education and financial support.
“It is encouraging to see additional private investment in our downtown area,” said Lawrence Mulligan, mayor of Middletown. “The historic Sorg Theatre has served Middletown for more than 125 years. It’s exciting to hear of plans to restore this important piece of our historic fabric tied to the arts.”
SORG also considers the success of Sorg’s rebirth dependent upon public participation and support. “The Sorg Opera House is truly one of Middletown’s finest jewels, and it really belongs to the whole community,” added Miller. “We hope to draw diverse audiences and obtain broad support for every aspect of our business.”
The group proposes to revitalize and re-establish the Sorg Opera House as a multipurpose performance venue and commercial destination, and as a catalyst for community economic development including workforce creation, education and classes, forums and cultural events.
“Of course, there’s a lot of work to do to get it there from its current condition,” says Miller. “We’ve been very impressed by the support from the city administration and civic leaders who are excited about turning the Sorg into something really special for this town. We couldn’t do this without them.”
The Sorg groups also hopes to make the theatre a fully self-reliant business. One of the early stages of development includes creation of a social gathering spot, such as a coffee house or sandwich shop, on the first floor. Other stages of revenue development might include partnership and tours in conjunction with other downtown activities; leasing of the theatre and ballroom; SORG’s own productions in the ballroom or theater; development of rental space on the upper floors of the commercial building; merchandise, concessions;
Once established, the group envisions the Sorg complex as a vital part of Middletown’s downtown economic rebirth and a cultural heart of the region. “SORG’s Opera House, with its diverse assortment of performance venues and services, can become a magnetic core for downtown development,”
The Middletown Community Foundation is providing funding oversight for the project, allowing donors to make tax-deductible contributions for the venture. “We’re enthusiastic about the benefits that this redevelopment will bring to the community,” said T. Duane Gordon, executive director of the Middletown Community Foundation.
“Our group is putting our experience, talent, money and heart into the Sorg Opera House and we’ll need help,” said Ken Bowman, SORG vice president for operations and programming. “But we believe the Sorg project is an opportunity for the community to come together to make it happen and we’re anxious to get started.”
To learn more, call Walt McRee at 267.293.9244 or visit www.sorgoperahouse.org.