New ladies’ room opens at Belk Theater

If you’ve got tickets to the “Festival of India” in September at Belk Theater, you’ll probably notice something under your tush immediately after you sit down.

New seats.

Blumenthal Performing Arts carved out six weeks in its off-season, starting July 21, to replace the seats installed when the Belk opened in 1992.

The seat renovation is not the only upgrade this year.

The women’s rest room on the orchestra level has been renovated. Twentyfour new stalls were added to the 24-stall rest room. Patrons at “Porgy and Bess” this week have noticed the new stalls, exit and sinks.

“Women who are used to standing in line trying to get into the restroom will appreciate that those restroom lines will be diminished,” said Blumenthal president Tom Gabbard. “They can focus instead on catching up with their friends, getting a drink at the bar and just enjoying those intermissions in a much better way.”

“Summer is really the best time for us to take on a major project,” he said. “The seat replacement is taking about six weeks, and so that’s something where we would just never be able to find the time to take the facility away from public use.”

In October, the city council approved $800,000 for the women’s rest room renovation. Because the city owns the Blumenthal – and most cultural centers – it is responsible for maintenance. In February, the council approved the $800,000 seat renovation project. Neither the women’s rest rooms nor the seats have been upgraded since the theater opened in 1992.

The rest room renovation started in January and was completed in time for “Porgy and Bess” Tuesday night.

Gabbard said they planned ahead, blocking out six weeks to dedicate to the renovation, and all of the seats in the theater will be replaced. The seats were originally to be renovated in 2008, but because of the recession, the money had to be reallocated.

While the seat renovations take place, the center will also freshen up the Blumenthal’s lobby, replacing the now faded wallpaper, Gabbard said.

Elise Esasky, Blumenthal communications manager, said ticket sales for the next season are at an all-time high, but they have no way of telling if it is at all related to the renovations.

Gabbard said the city has always done a good job of maintaining the Blumenthal facilities, and he’s happy to see the both renovations finally taking form.

“The Belk Theater is one of the most important public entertainment spaces in this whole region, and it’s used by people throughout the region,” he said. “So their comfort is certainly an important part of making their experience a good one.”