When Marc Robin was promoted to executive artistic producer at the Fulton Theatre in the fall of 2016, he told LNP: “Stay tuned. Big things are coming.”
He wasn’t kidding.
On Monday, Robin will present an ambitious plan to the board of the landmark theater, historically known as the Fulton Opera House.
If enacted in full, it would transform the block at the corner of North Prince and West King streets over several years into a major performing arts complex and a regional destination.
Robin said he’s thrilled about the possibilities.
“This could be our breakout performance,” he said.
The plan is divided into independent phases, so the Fulton will be able to pick and choose how it wants to proceed. Parts could be scaled back or reconceptualized. All those decisions rest with the board. Until it acts, everything remains tentative, Robin said.
One phase would expand the backstage area and add apartments to house visiting performers. Backstage systems such as lighting and sound would be upgraded and modernized.
Another phase would involve constructing a new “infill” building in what is now an alley between the Fulton and the building at 24 N. Prince St, which it owns. The new building would connect the existing ones, opening up space for an atrium, a bar, a lounge, offices and a two-story dance studio.
The cost of all phases, plus an endowment for future upkeep and maintenance, would be more than $20 million, Robin said.
If things fall into place, construction on the first phase could start as soon as this fall, he said.
Board member Martha Lester Harris said she’s looking forward to Monday’s discussion. She said she and other board members are committed to doing what’s best for the Fulton and downtown Lancaster “artistically, historically and culturally.”
Unifying the block
The Fulton has been talking about expanding for years. It’s also been laying the groundwork, by buying the other buildings on its block.
This month, it acquired the final missing piece, the building at 4-6 N. Prince St., home to a Rita's Italian Ice. The Fulton paid $691,425 for it, according to a deed filed with the county.
The Fulton also owns 101 W. King St., at the corner of King and Prince, and the other four West King properties on that block.
Their facades are to be restored and preserved, architect Wendy Tippetts of the firm Tippetts/Weaver told the city Historical Commission this week. Inside, they would be transformed.
The backs of the buildings would be tied into the Fulton. One section would be used to create a “stage right” area, relieving the Fulton’s acute shortage of backstage space.
The apartments for performers would go on the buildings’ upper floors.
There’s no plan yet for what would go in West King Street storefronts at ground level, and they may remain unoccupied at first. Eventual possibilities being considered include classroom space, retail, or a mix, Tippetts said.
There are several components in play that would expand the Fulton’s lobby space to better accommodate large crowds. Similarly, the number of restrooms for both genders will be significantly increased.
$4M grant from state
The Fulton has been approaching private donors about the project, Robin said, and those discussions are continuing.
In the fall, the organization expects to roll out a public capital campaign, he said.
A big boost came in December when the state awarded the project a $4 million grant.
The Fulton was erected in 1852 and is a National Historic Landmark. Originally a lecture hall and community center, it was converted into a theater in the 1870s. In the early 1900s, its interior was redone by C. Emlen Urban.
In 1995, it underwent a $9.5 million facelift, the first major renovation since Urban’s efforts. Local architect Richard Levengood collaborated on the 1995 project and was heavily involved in the current effort as well, Robin said.
Editor's note: This story was updated to reflect that the Rita's Italian Ice at 4-6 N. Prince St. is an active business. It is opening for the season at noon Friday, Feb. 23.