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Renovated Midland Theatre expected to open in spring

The Midland Theatre is expected to reopen in the spring following a $28 million makeover that will refresh the old vaudeville palace, introduce cabaret seating and add several bars.

The joint venture by the Cordish Co. of Baltimore and Kansas City-based AMC Entertainment, first announced two years ago, is intended to reposition the historic landmark at 13th and Main streets to essentially become a huge nightclub accommodating up to 3,200 people.

“Our collective goal is to respect the incredible historic nature of the building and improve it to where it could truly be a substantial anchor for the Power & Light District and downtown Kansas City,” said Reed Cordish, a vice president.

“We want it to be active as many days and nights a year as possible.”

Cordish said his firm and AMC are close to completing a deal with one of the “largest players” in the live music and performance industry to operate the facility.

The biggest visual change planned for the ornate interior of the 80-year-old theater is replacement of its main-level seating rows with a seven-tier open floor that will allow flexibility for cabaret-style tables and chairs, or standing for general admission events. Up to 700 plush folding chairs also can be set up.

The other significant addition will be a lounge area being built on a platform at the rear of the upper balcony. The bar will wrap around a centerpiece shaped like a chandelier.

All the interior changes meet the historic preservation guidelines laid down by the state and federal governments, Cordish said.

The Midland, which has been owned by AMC since 1966, was renovated in 1988 and 1998, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“We have been steadfast in our effort to maintain the historic character inside,” said Jeff Schutzler, a principal at Helix Architecture & Design, the firm doing the design work. “We want to make sure we don’t detract and in fact enhance the theater.”

On the outside, the Midland marquee is slated to be restored to its original appearance when the theater opened in 1927.

“The marquee will be returned to a classic theater marquee down to the detail of individual bulbs spelling out the name,” Cordish said.

The familiar decor of the lobby and other public areas will be freshened up and restored to its original splendor, Cordish said.

The most substantial changes will be to the five-level office section of the theater that faces Main Street. It has been vacant for many years, and the Cordish plan calls for it to be renovated and included in the entertainment mix. Each level has about 3,000 square feet of floor space.

The first floor will become a lounge that can be accessed from a new outside entrance at 13th and Main and from the theater lobby. Below it, the basement space will become a bar geared toward rock bands. The entire bar will be called The Indie.

A private passage will lead from the Midland backstage and dressing room area to the basement bar. The plan calls for a renovation of the dressing room areas that will include showers and other amenities for performers.

The second level of the former office structure will be used for administrative functions. The third floor will have a catering kitchen that will allow the Midland to be used for private functions and events.

The fourth floor will be a VIP lounge that also will be served by a private elevator off 13th Street. It will cater to the patrons seated at the loge level of the theater, which Cordish envisions as the best seats in the house.

The loge level also will have a separate bar in the back, along with couches and tables.

The fifth floor of the building will be used as a banquet room.

“This is one of the most stunning historic buildings you can imagine, but now with great amenities for a great experience,” Cordish said.

The Midland is expected to play host to a variety of live music acts, from pop to jazz to blues to country. The capacity will range from 2,700 people when the house is set up cabaret-style to 3,200 when general admission standing is allowed on the main level.

The stage and rigging will remain the same. While the Midland could accommodate musical theater and dance productions, Cordish said those types of events are expected to migrate to the recently renovated Music Hall or the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts now under construction and scheduled to open in late 2009.

“Our niche is the music,” Cordish said.

Frank Rash, AMC senior vice president of strategic development, said his company is pleased with the plan.

“We are continuing a long tradition of bringing fun, live entertainment to Kansas City,” he said. “This theater has been in the family for many years, so this is a natural evolution to take it to the next level.”

Plans for the 12-story Midland office building on the west side of the complex facing Baltimore Avenue are evolving. The Cordish Co. originally envisioned it being converted into 40 upscale residential condominiums, but is now considering rental units.

The renovation of that building will require a separate development agreement with the city. Blake Cordish, a vice president, said no timetable has been set on when a formal application will be submitted.

“We’re trying to be respectful of the new administration’s learning curve in terms of getting its hands around the new economic development policy,” Blake Cordish said. “We’re very anxious to move forward.”

In a related development, Reed Cordish said good progress is being made on renovating the historic Mainstreet Theater, more recently called the Empire Theater, into a six-screen digital movie complex. That project, which will include a two-level restaurant and dessert bar, is part of the joint venture between Cordish and AMC.

“We’re under heavy construction, and full historic approvals have been received,” he said.

Cordish said the Midland is expected to reopen in early spring and the Mainstreet a couple of months later.

To reach Kevin Collison, call 816-234-4289 or send e-mail to

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