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WKSU, our public radio partners in Ohio and across the region and NPR are all continuing to work on stories on the latest developments with the coronavirus and COVID-19 so that we can keep you informed.

Akron Civic Theatre Works to Reopen As County Urges Congress to Help Venues

photo of the Akron Civic Theatre marquis
Akron Civic Theatre is often called the jewel on Main St. downtown.

Summit County Council has unanimously approved a resolution urging Congress to pass legislation that would offer financial support to struggling entertainment venues.

Such venues were among the first to close when the coronavirus pandemic struck. The state just established reopening guidelines that limit capacity to 15% or 300 people.

For places like Akron Civic Theatre, executive director Howard Parr says that’s not financially feasible. Right now, Parr says venues like his need funds to remain viable and a realistic way to bring back crowds.

“In downtown Akron it’s maybe in a lot of ways even more critical that we figure this out because we’ve had two years of construction on Main Street and a $40 million private public sector investment immediately to the north of the theatre that’s all nearing completion right now.”

Parr is seeking a variance from local health officials and the state that would allow closer to 700 people at the Civic. 

The Civic has determined it can safely host nearly 700 people. It is seeking permission to do so from the local and state health departments.

“We didn’t pick that number out of the air. We engineered it by figuring out how we could seat people in groups of four, which is what the order talks about, and in a way that didn’t require people to come within six feet of each other.” 

Parr told Summit County Council last night the pandemic has left about 1,500 people in the local industry without jobs and led to $9 million in losses for venues around the county.  

Parr says the Civic is optimistic about next year and has a strong lineup shaping up for the second half of 2021. But to get there, he says local venues need a bridge through the current situation. 

Parr says they're trying to find ways to weather the short term struggles and persevere to what he hopes will be better circumstances next year.

"Our short-term concern is focused on October, November, December and can we do something, not really to generate a huge amount of revenue but simply to fulfill our mission, to activate the building, and to find out what's the tolerance of people in the community to come to events. I mean do they want to come to events? Do they feel safe?" 

Many cities, including Cleveland, plan to light up buildings in red from 9:00 p.m. tonight until midnight to show support for the live event industy. Twelve buildings in Cleveland will be lit up as well as the GE Chandelier and Playhouse Square retro sign. Across the country, more than 5,000 buildings are expected to be lit in red.   

A Northeast Ohio native, Sarah Taylor graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio where she worked at her first NPR station, WMUB. She began her professional career at WCKY-AM in Cincinnati and spent two decades in television news, the bulk of them at WKBN in Youngstown (as Sarah Eisler). For the past three years, Sarah has taught a variety of courses in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State, where she is also pursuing a Master’s degree. Sarah and her husband Scott, have two children. They live in Tallmadge.