USA TODAY article sent in by Dean Burridge
Faubourg St. John neighbor Kenneth Gowland, like most architects, isn’t used to conducting building surveys in a boat. But when it came time to revive the historic Joy Theater in downtown New Orleans, there was just no other way.
Gowland recalls the scene when he first entered the theater last July to survey the building for restoration.
“At no point did anyone pump it out,” said Gowland, owner of MetroStudio in New Orleans. “(The Joy Theater) was filled with nasty, stagnate water.”
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In 2005, the theater had been closed almost two years when Hurricane Katrina blew off much of its roof. The exposed, below-grade building collected large amounts of water as the storm devastated the city.
Gowland said the decision by four private developers to restore the theater reflects a growing realization that there are great business opportunities in the city’s historical core.
“The Joy is not the biggest or the oldest building on Canal Street, but it comes to everyone’s mind,” Gowland said. “This is where everyone in New Orleans saw Jaws.”
Six years after Katrina, the water was eventually pumped out as the entire building went through what Gowland called an “environmental remediation phase.”
“I think people are understanding that the value of a city is in its infrastructure,” he said.
Located on the main commercial thoroughfare in downtown New Orleans, Gowland said the Joy is the first theater in the area to breathe new life, with others beginning to follow.
“Renovation of the Saenger Theatre across the street is just now kicking off in earnest,” he said. “I think the Joy is a major catalyst.”
Although Gowland said he believes the theater’s revival is a sign of an improving downtown economy, he didn’t downplay its importance to the New Orleans community for nostalgic reasons.
According to Gowland, converting the former single-screen theater into a multiple-use facility was difficult because the original theater possessed little of the required technological and building infrastructure.
“It was like turning an apple into an orange,” he said. “There was no stage and we had to build a whole new balcony.”
A separate challenge was to ensure the building maintained its original historic facade, which was required to receive a historic tax credit to subsidize the $5 million renovation. This included replicating the marquee, the Joy Theater’s most distinguishing feature.
Gowland said he is pleased with the results.
“We ended up with a really unique multipurpose arts facility,” he said.
The theater reopened Dec. 29 with local Grammy winner Irma Thomas performing a set of her R&B and soul classics for the sold-out crowd.
Theater spokeswoman Sandie McNamara said the plan is to welcome more national acts in the coming months and provide space for film festivals, movie premieres and comedy shows.