Cincinnati’s Music Hall donating seats to Middletown opera house

As Cincinnati's Music Hall prepares for its estimated $125 million restoration, the home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is donating nearly 1,000 seats from its first balcony to its little sister, Middletown's Sorg Opera House.

Built in 1878 with private funds, the home of the symphony, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, Cincinnati May Festival, Cincinnati Ballet and Cincinnati Opera was designed by esteemed architect Samuel Hannaford and is around $10 million short of its $125 million fundraising goal.

In a deal that Sorg Opera Revitalization Group (SORG) president Chuck Miller said has been discussed since last May, that building will contribute 985 seats to Middletown’s oldest theater, also designed by Hannaford, which opened in 1891.

But the timing is tricky: Music Hall needs the seats removed as soon as possible.

So SORG is seeking volunteers to work between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Sunday helping unbolt as many seats as possible from the Music Hall floor at 1241 Elm St. in Cincinnati. People should not go there without first emailing to get information about the tools required.

“It is of urgent priority that we get the task done, as far as Music Hall’s concerned, because they want to get the seats out to get Messer Construction in” to start its work, Miller said.

Hosea Project Movers, based in Covington, Ky., which will receive the rest of Music Hall’s 3,516 seats, has agreed to store the seats and later install them in the opera house. Hosea also will move the seats.

“This stuff’s valuable,” Miller said. “That’s fantastic.”

SORG Vice President Ken Bowman, who made the arrangements with Hosea, called the contribution of the seats “a game changer for the Sorg,” adding: “Once installed, they will go a long way toward demonstrating the viability of our restoration and revitalization project.”

The organization recently failed to win a request for $1 million in Ohio’s two-year capital spending plan. The theater and office portions of the building each are expected to cost $4 million to refurbish and bring up to code, but officials have a more immediate goal: For about $100,000, they can bring the theater sufficiently up to code and be able to host performances in the mild weather of spring and fall to continue building community support and raising money.

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Operations Director Scott Santangelo was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.

The University of Dayton’s Business Research Group has estimated the four-year impact of Sorg’s theater — including for businesses nearby that would benefit from the additional customers drawn by the theater — could be $15.7 million, with creation of 151 full-time-equivalent jobs.

SORG board member Jeff Johnson said the Music Hall contribution to the sister auditorium “will further cement the relationship of the Sorg to Music Hall in the minds of music lovers.”

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