Erie Times News
Posted Jun 21, 2018 at 6:05 PM  Updated Jun 21, 2018 at 6:05 PM

The historic facility could be back on track for long-delayed, $14.5 million renovation.

A new agreement between Erie Events and officials in Harrisburg is likely to jump-start the long-planned multimillion-dollar renovation of the Warner Theatre once again.

Erie Events has entered into a delegation agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of General Services regarding the $14.5 million project, which will allow Erie Events to oversee design and construction of the improvements, said Casey Wells, Erie Events’ executive director.

DGS manages nonhighway projects involving state money. The 86-year-old theater, at 811 State St., is state-owned but managed by Erie Events.

Starting with Gov. Tom Ridge in 1996, governors and the Legislature have approved the $11 million grant, and the money is earmarked for the Warner project.

However, a series of delays have stalled the project, including a complicated property acquisition that took roughly five years to complete and was not finalized until December 2016, as well as a lengthy state budget impasse in 2017.

“This agreement allows us to mobilize the project again,” said Wells, who added that Erie Events is in the process of hiring an architectural firm.

Roger Richards, a member of the Convention Center Authority’s board of directors, said DGS is allowing Erie Events to manage the Warner project in part because it has a track record of effectively managing projects involving state money. The authority oversees Erie Events.

Erie Events had a similar project management arrangement with DGS regarding Erie Insurance Arena’s $47 million makeover, Richards said. The renovated arena opened in September 2013.

DGS officials could not be reached for comment.

Erie Events officials have said the renovations will create 13,750 square feet of new space, rehabilitate 9,000 square feet of existing space and increase the stage depth by 20 feet.

It will also add new rigging, an updated sound system, new loading docks, additional production equipment and a customized orchestral shell.

The Warner, which opened on April 10, 1931, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Wells would not provide a timetable, but said the design and construction phase would take at least 18 months and force the historic downtown theater to close for six to seven months.

Wells and other Erie Events officials have said the upgrades will allow the theater to accommodate larger shows. The $11 million in state funding, combined with $3.5 million in private donations in escrow with the Warner Theatre Preservation Trust, will fund the project.

Previous state money, totaling $3 million, funded two earlier phases of Warner Theatre upgrades that included new seats, a new roof and interior decorative painting.

An additional $2.5 million phase, combining tax dollars and private donations, paid for an expansion that was completed in 2007 that included additional restrooms, concession areas, and a new entrance and electronic marquee off French Street.

Kevin Flowers can be reached at 870-1693 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at