NEW ORLEANS -- After a series of delays and roadblocks, work is finally underway to bring back the iconic Saenger Theatre.
Architects and developers call it a top-to-bottom, inside-out renovation that must tiptoe the line between preservation and cutting edge.
"(Guests will see) the Saenger Theatre brought back to its original glory, but it will be technologically and functionally, a very modern building," said Gary Martinez, CEO of Martinez + Johnson architecture firm in Washington, DC.
Martinez said the theater -– scheduled to reopen in June 2013 -- will boast state-of-art lighting and sound, but the effort to retain its historical charm will be critical.
"You tend to get very impatient because you want to see it come back as quickly as possible, but patience is really what it takes to dig into the heart and soul of the building, if you will, and sort of bring that out," he said.
It's a $50 million project to bring back the flood-damaged facility; paid for in a public-private partnership.
Officials said years of paint and veneer will be stripped away inside the theater, while the original color palette will be restored. Plans also call for all new handicapped seating.
A key transformation, developers said, is happening at the rear of the building.
There, crews are building a 50 percent bigger stage to accommodate Thursday's much larger productions.
"It's a reconstruction of a new stagehouse that will allow us to provide all of the very best and largest touring attractions, both theatrical and otherwise," said David Anderson with ACE Theatrical Group.
And with a projected seating capacity of more than 2,700 guests, developers believe the Saenger will help attract artists that have been by-passing city the over last few years.
Gambit Arts & Entertainment Editor Will Coviello agrees that filling that void in capacity should enhance the city’s entertainment options.
"There's a little bit of a gap between what we're getting, up to the 2,000 (capacity) and then all the way up to the New Orleans Arena and the Lakefront, so yeah, up to a 3,000 seat (venue), that's another size concert we can schedule there and downtown," Coviello said.
Developers promise a theater that will host a diverse lineup of programming.
"Every taxpaying citizen should be able to say, 'I go there.' From every age, every ethnicity, every taste in music and entertainment, we want everybody to have a home here at the Saenger," Anderson said.