On the one year anniversary of Little Rock’s historic Robinson Auditorium closing to begin a nearly $70 million renovation, a topping out ceremony was held Wednesday. The final steel beam that will be put in place on the expanded structure was signed by local officials, members of the design and construction teams and other guests. Work is scheduled to be completed by November 2016.
Tours were given of the area that will become the ballroom and conference center on top of the structure facing north. At this point it’s little more than a concrete floor surrounded by beams where glass walls and the roof will be built, but it let people see the view it will provide of the Arkansas River.
Gretchen Hall, president and CEO of the Little Rock Convention and Vistors Bureau, is overseeing the project and told the crowd that Wednesday’s event marks an exciting milestone for the renovation.
"Those of us close to the project have a complete understanding of the actual complexity of this design and all of the challenges of protecting our historic exterior and protecting the historical significance of this project while basically gutting the entire interior to provide a world-class performing arts center with an expanded, brand new conference center on the north side," Hall said.
After removing all the seats, balcony and different floors, crews are essentially starting from scratch inside the shell of the brick building, leaving the iconic pillars and steps outside. A new lobby facing Broadway is also being constructed.
Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola noted that there had long been complaints about the sound of the old auditorium, which has been the home of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. He offered an assurance that the project will be worth the cost, which is funded through a two percent tourism tax.
"This is a transition of the building into the 21st century that’s going to live long beyond all of us and it is a new beginning, not only a restoration, but a true transformation of a wonderful facility into one of the finest performing arts buildings that will be in the United States," Stodola said.
Hall said the project is on budget and on schedule. Robinson Auditorium was built in 1939.