Russell and Diana Wooley, the founders of LAMB Arts Regional Theatre & School, announced a capital campaign to turn Sioux City’s old auditorium, at 625 Douglas St., into the Center for the Performing Arts.
The $11.5 million project, which would be LAMB's new home, will include a 250-seat thrust theatre, as well as a 120-seat studio theatre and a smaller cabaret-style theatre, all surrounding a two-story atrium with a skylight and open-air staircase.
“To have this building returned to a place of entertainment and arts activity and returned to the way it looked in 1909 is a magnificent opportunity,” Russell Wooley said. “Sometime in our lives, opportunities are presented, and you either let them go by or you embrace them. So the city and LAMB has decided to embrace this idea.”
The project is contingent on the Sioux City Council’s approval of a $350,000 economic development loan for the nonprofit theatre company to purchase the building. A vote will be held on Monday.
Mayor Bob Scott was at the press conference Friday morning, lending his support.
“This is going to have a great impact on our downtown community,” he said, adding that it ties into completion and dedication of Pearl Street Park, which is on the same block as the proposed Center for the Performing Arts.
The old auditorium has been vacant since the end of March, when KCAU-TV moved out and relocated to a new broadcast facility at 5993 Gordon Drive.
The Wooleys had been in conversations with city officials for more than a year about relocating LAMB to 625 Douglas St. Previously, the building had been the subject of demolition discussions.
Now, the plan is to restore the building’s exterior and renovate the interior.
In addition to having three performance areas, the project calls for a room that will be used for teaching choreography but could also be transformed into a gallery or special exhibitions space.
There will also be a catering kitchen, a costume shop, a scene shop and two classrooms.
The anticipated completion date is by the spring of 2020.
“I want to have one of our productions in our 40th season in this building,” Diana Wooley told a crowd of reporters, supporters and friends. “And if you see something in your head and you work toward it, it’ll happen. Right?”
LAMB is in its 38th season. The Wooleys began offering dinner theater in the Crystal Ballroom of the Sioux City Hilton Inn in downtown Sioux City in 1979.
“We were so young that we had no idea we were going to be around for that long,” Russell Wooley said. “But it worked because of a lot of hard and because of all of you, because of the community, because of the community coming to see our shows, to get their kids to our class.”
After spending the first seven years staging shows at the Hilton, the Wooleys moved into Webster School, at 417 Market St., and made it their home. Marvin and Francis Kline, who were longtime supporters of the arts in Siouxland, helped the Wooleys take that step.
This time, with the city’s support, the Wooley’s are taking another leap.
Looking to the future, the hope to expand their entertainment and educational offerings by establishing initiatives like an artist incubator in which they would be able to invite actors, directors and playwrights from all over the country to come to Sioux City to workshop new projects.
“We are not people that go back on our heels. We lean forward,” Russell Wooley said. “We have a vision, and this place will be here for decades.”