City's entertainment renaissance is born

Civic Center Music Hall renovation and new arena attract stars to Oklahoma City.
BY STEVE LACKMEYER Business Writer slackmeyer@opubco.com Published: December 8, 2013
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It was an unplanned and yet magical moment when the Civic Center Music Hall reopened in 2001 after an often troubled $53 million makeover.

Originally known as Municipal Auditorium, the building was built in 1937 as a multipurpose facility that showcased everything from classical music and touring stage productions to sporting events, trade shows, conventions and beauty pageants.

A remodeling in 1966 converted the auditorium into a performing arts hall, but that configuration was always seen as an uncomfortable fit with poor acoustics for the Philharmonic and Oklahoma City Ballet.

Some arts patrons wanted to abandon the Civic Center Music Hall altogether when the MAPS ballot was approved; some sought to build an entirely new music hall in northwest Oklahoma City.

The design by architect Richard Hall called for building an entirely new building within the historic shell. The plan was ambitious — and the cost exceeded the budget by millions at a time when the entire MAPS program was running short on funds.

A six-month extension of the MAPS sales tax ensured the project would move forward. Architects got to work on the refurbishing plans and decided to shrink the size of the main auditorium to create a more intimate venue.

The result was better acoustics, along with state-of-the-art amenities, and a soaring, five-story atrium to greet patrons where the rear of the auditorium used to be.

And with a packed crowd eager to enjoy the new, European-style performance hall on opening night in September 2001, a lightning strike knocked out the power.

The lights came down. So did the air conditioning and sound system.

Kirk Humphreys, then mayor of Oklahoma City, suggested headline performers Jimmy Webb and Michael Feinstein try an a cappella performance, and if nothing else, it would be a test of the new acoustics at the renovated, cozier main theater.

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