Winnipeg’s Park Theatre uses pandemic closure for major renovations

While the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has affected countless industries, one of the hardest hit has been live entertainment.

With public health orders mandating venue closures, touring artists staying home and concertgoers uncomfortable about gathering in crowds again, concert venues big and small have struggled over the past year-plus to stay afloat — a period that has seen many shut their doors for good.

For one mainstay in Winnipeg’s South Osborne neighbourhood, however, the months and months of forced closure presented an opportunity to tackle some significant renovations — so when patrons return to the Park Theatre on Oct. 8, they’ll see a transformed venue.

A photo from this spring of the Park’s interior renovations under construction. The Park Theatre / Facebook

“It’s going to be so different — our capacity is almost doubled,” said Cory Thomas, the Park’s talent buyer.

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“Before, you walked in, there was the lobby, and there there was a door to get into the venue to see the band. Now it’s just one big room … 700 people. We were kind of outgrowing the old capacity.

“We were constantly selling out shows and knowing we could have a couple hundred more tickets on each of those shows. We never could find that time to close for two to three months. We were always so busy … and then the pandemic came along.”

Thomas said the renovations have also included better wheelchair accessibility — something the venue has been wanting to install for some time.

Read more: 103-year-old Park Theatre getting a facelift

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Thomas said the century-old Park — which already underwent a complete facelift to its exterior facade a few years ago — took a big risk by spending money on the renos during a period when no money was coming in, but filling a void in the city as a mid-sized venue is likely to pay off.

“It’s going to be for the better. Now we’re going to be doing all of these bigger events…. It’s awesome,” said Thomas.

“Already we’re getting a lot of bookings for the new year that we wouldn’t have got otherwise.

“Even some larger promoters that didn’t book our room too much, all of a sudden I’m hearing from them every day. The Garrick did not last the pandemic, so now with the Garrick being gone, it just made even more sense that we needed to fill that void of being that venue at 700 people.”

The Park will introduce its new digs to concertgoers on Oct. 8 with one of three back-to-back shows by local punk legends Propagandhi.

“What better band than Propagandhi have to do our first show back at the new Park?”

Coronavirus: Community rallying together to save Winnipeg’s Park Theatre – Jun 15, 2020

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