When the doors reopen on the INB Performing Arts Center in November after a six-month renovation, patrons will see new public art, newly accessible seating, a new bar and wider seats. They’ll also hear a new, state-of-the-art sound system.
And they’ll no longer be seated inside the INB Performing Arts Center.
Welcome to the First Interstate Center for the Arts.
The facility, built for Expo ’74 and known as the Spokane Opera House for decades, has been called the INB since 2006, when the Spokane-based bank purchased the naming rights. Now that First Interstate BancSystem of Montana has completed its acquisition of the Northwest Bancorp, a name change was in order.
The new name coincides with completion of $23 million in upgrades and renovations. Stephanie Curran, Spokane Public Facilities District CEO, said initial plans aimed to improve accessibility. While the facility was fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Curran said, “we didn’t feel like we were giving all of our guests the same experience, and we wanted to fix that.
“That little idea turned into a $23 million renovation.”
The facility closed May 1 and is expected to host an open house on Nov. 5, with the first ticketed event the opening of the touring Broadway musical “Finding Neverland” on Nov. 15.
Among the most visible additions is a large-scale lobby installation, “Opening Act,” by Spokane sculptors Bill and Karma Simmons. It features three large aluminum hands with a series of human figures dangling from them. Spokane artist Karen Mobley, the project’s art manager, said lighting still to be installed will capture iridescence in the paint on the human figures, “so they should sort of glisten in the light when the lights are on and especially at night.”
She added the piece is visible from the outside, “so at nighttime it will give you a cool thing to look at from the (Centennial) trail.”
Previously, patrons who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices went through security and entered the lobby through the main doors, then were escorted back outside and west down Spokane Falls Boulevard to the lower south entrance. There they would enter again before finding their seats, said Kevin Twohig, the project manager and recently retired CEO of the public facilities district.
Now, guests will find a hallway along the south wall that will connect them directly from the ground-floor lobby to the ground-floor auditorium doorways. For ticketholders with seats in the first few rows, this will preclude the need to go up the stairs just to go back down.
“This access will bring particularly our wheelchair guests, but really anybody who is sitting on the lower part of this floor down this side, right to the entry doors,” he said. “It’s a way better way to help get people where they need to go.”
The former music room, which the Spokane Symphony used for rehearsals when it performed in the hall – before the renovation of the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox – will be a bar area and meeting space. It will sport a couple televisions, a small serving kitchen and restrooms. “As Spokane gets busier, people tend to come to events a little earlier,” Twohig said, “and they’re looking for some services. We’re just wanting to make sure we provide them.”
In the auditorium, not much will appear different. The new seats will be the same color – burgundy – as they were before. Taking a seat, patrons should notice some additional elbow room. All seats will be 20 inches wide, as opposed to 18 or 19 inches. It’s cut capacity from 2,700 to 2,525.
Other changes won’t be as visible to the public. A new sound system will bring the facility up to date with the latest technology. Three new dressing rooms will bring the total to 10, and they added a couple of bathrooms backstage and a meal area for cast and crew. A new elevator backstage will allow crew to move equipment and costumes to the upstairs dressing rooms, and new electrical systems were installed throughout. The exterior, single-pane plate windows were replaced to make them safer and more energy-efficient.
Curran said including “center for the arts” in the venue name was an intentional decision.
“We felt like the venue was growing and evolving and we’re going to be offering a lot more different types of events, and ‘center for the arts’ sort of encapsulated everything,” she said.
First Interstate’s director of banking, Bill Gottwals, said the company understands how important quality of life is in the communities it serves, and how the performing arts contribute to that.
“Our founder, Homer Scott, used to always say, ‘If you live in a place, care enough to make it the best it can be,’” he said, later adding, “We are really thrilled INB supported the performing arts center … and it’s a privilege to take that over now and continue supporting that.”
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