Major renovations possible for Orpheum Theatre, including potential synergies with adjacent redevelopment

May 17 2023, 2:37 am

A feasibility study will be undertaken on possible upgrades to the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Vancouver’s Granville Entertainment District.

The potential scope of the upgrades could make it the single largest renovation project the historic theatre has seen in decades — ever since the City of Vancouver saved the 1927-built theatre by acquiring it in the 1970s.

The forthcoming feasibility study will perform additional planning work on the future renovation project, which currently includes components such as: the replacement of major building systems like HVAC and lighting; accessibility improvements with level changes, elevators, ramps, new seating, and washroom upgrades; seismic upgrades and the restoration and reinforcement of historic walls; acoustic improvements for a more optimal spectator experience; and functional improvements for the back of house and front of house.

Other upgrades include an overhaul of the 1983-built Smithe Street facade “as part of [an] integrated design approach to overall accessibility, audience experience, and sustainability.”

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Orpheum Theatre. (Vancouver Civic Theatres)

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Smithe Street entrance of the Orpheum Theatre. (Google Maps)

Interestingly, this feasibility study also includes work to “obtain construction and project cost estimates for the existing site and potential synergies related to a recent rezoning enquiry for the adjacent properties.” This appears to be a reference to Bonnis Properties’ 800 Granville Street rezoning application, which is an office, retail, restaurant, and entertainment space redevelopment that proposes offering major shared improvements with the Orpheum Theatre.

According to the developer’s vision, the 800 Granville Street project’s public benefits could entail a 15,000 sq ft, 320-seat performance theatre as an additional venue to the City-owned Orpheum Theatre complex, conduct changes to the Orpheum Theatre’s Granville Street entrance lobby area to accommodate new elevators reaching the additional theatre, and establish shared pre-function spaces. As well, there could be shared back-of-house upgrades that benefit both the Commodore Ballroom — operated by Live Nation — and the Orpheum Theatre.

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August 2021 sketch of changes to the Orpheum Theatre’s Granville Street entrance for new vertical circulation access to the Commodore Ballroom and the new city-owned theatre, as part of 800 Granville Street. (Perkins&Will/Bonnis Properties)

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Orpheum Theatre’s lobby for the Granville Street entrance. (Vancouver Civic Theatres)

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August 2021 sketch of the 800 Granville Street’s fourth level of a restaurant, lounge space, and promenade. (Perkins&Will/Bonnis Properties)

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August 2021 artistic rendering of the revised design for 800 Granville Street, Vancouver. (Perkins&Will/Bonnis Properties)

In an email to Daily Hive Urbanized, the City says the scope of the Orpheum Theatre upgrades currently being planned are in line with the Granville Street Planning Program, which was recently approved by Vancouver City Council. Following public consultation, City planners are expected to return to City Council in Spring 2024 for a final decision on the plan to help revitalize the Granville Strip, which will also serve to guide future redevelopments in the area.

“As the Orpheum approaches the 100 year mark, and is a designated heritage city asset, the City is exploring options for seismic and much needed accessibility upgrades as well as acoustic and sightline improvements that would benefit our audiences as well as musical presenters and promoters such as the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Vancouver Recital Society, and Live Nation to name a few,” states the City.

City staff have indicated Revery Architecture is their preferred contractor to perform the feasibility study, as the municipal government previously contracted the firm to complete the initial Orpheum Theatre feasibility study in 2017-2019. For this reason, according to City staff, the firm is already highly familiar with the project, allowing a shorter completion time for the forthcoming phase of feasibility analysis. The contract value is approximately $130,000.

If the Orpheum Theatre renovations go ahead, the 2023-2026 capital budget suggests the upgrades will not be happening anytime soon, as only $2 million has been set aside for capital upgrades of Vancouver Civic Theatres’ facilities in the four-year capital plan.

Orpheum Theatre. (Vancouver Civic Theatres)

Orpheum Theatre. (Marie Cardona)

Orpheum Theatre. (Marie Cardona)

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Orpheum Theatre/

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The historic Orpheum Theatre entrance on Granville Street. (Karm Sumal/Daily Hive)

Revery Architecture is also behind the design of the recently unveiled wood canopy roof for the new 10,000-capacity PNE Amphitheatre. Other performance venues designed by the firm include the UBC Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, Xiqu Centre theatre on the Kowloon waterfront of Hong Kong, and Westbank’s future 600-capacity Blood Alley Music Hall in Gastown.

The 2,672-seat Orpheum Theatre is operated by the municipal government’s Vancouver Civic Theatres department, which also manages the Queen Elizabeth Theatre and Vancouver Playhouse.

The Orpheum Theatre complex expanded in 2011, when a 191-seat black box theatre — known as the Annex — opened within the base of the Capitol Residences condominium tower, located immediately north of the Orpheum building.

In 1979, the Orpheum Theatre was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada by the federal government. It was originally used as a vaudeville house, before being turned into a movie house under Famous Players’ decades-long ownership until the 1970s.

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Granville Street looking north from Smithe Street. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

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