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Local View: Duluth in for a treat with restored NorShor

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The main floor auditorium of the NorShor Theatre. (2006 file / News Tribune)2 / 2

Like many Duluthians, I have had reservations about the NorShor deal: the cost, the complexity, the time delays, the changes in design and facility layout, and more.

My concerns were well-founded. I was chairman of the Duluth Playhouse board when the project first was conceived as a shared undertaking between the city of Duluth, Sherman Associates and the Duluth Playhouse.

There’s an old business adage: Time kills deals. Such seemed to be the case with the NorShor project until the recent strong votes by both the Duluth Economic Development Authority (“Authority approves development agreement, sends it on to council,” April 7) and the Duluth City Council (“NorShor Theatre plan gets council OK,” April 12). (I should also disclose I once was vice president of DEDA; this was some years back, way before any NorShor involvement.).

With endorsements from DEDA and the council, it is now time for the rest of us to get behind this worthy effort. As developer George Sherman prophetically said: “It takes a village to build a theater.” Let’s amplify this further.

There has been a lot of discussion and focus on the physical restoration of the NorShor building to create a 600- to 700-seat theater in a remarkable setting. Recently, I attended two plays in Tucson, Ariz., one in a makeshift, unpleasant venue that detracted from the performance and the other in the magnificent 1927 Temple of Music and Art, a venue that thoroughly enhanced the enjoyment of the evening.

Duluth is in for a treat with the restored NorShor; it truly will add “class” to our downtown.

Very little attention has been focused on the Duluth Playhouse and its role in restoring the grandeur of the NorShor. The enviable Duluth Playhouse record of selling out performances before they open (in the Playhouse’s existing 280 seat capacity at the Depot) is remarkable. Whence this growth? It’s from the arrival of Executive and Artistic Director Christine Seitz; the development of local theater talent; a committed staff; exceptional board strength; the growth of children’s programming; the quality of productions; collaborative efforts with Duluth-

Superior Symphony and Minnesota Ballet; and the Playhouse’s role as a continuing conduit for students from the University of Minnesota Duluth, the University of Wisconsin-Superior, the College of St. Scholastica and elsewhere.

A little-known but significant factor is the Playhouse’s consistent use of conservative financial assumptions. As community theater, this is a truly grass-roots organization.

Somewhat analogous is the wonderful Duluth Heritage Sports Center, another local project that has been so well received and of which Duluth can be proud.

Am I the only person finding live theater infinitely more appealing than a “canned” movie — particularly if

Hollywood-based? Please join me and other Duluthians in supporting this project. The NorShor needs and welcomes both your patronage and financial support via your pledges.

Tom Wheeler is a longtime Duluth-area businessman, civic leader, philanthropist and regular contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page.

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