State and local leaders tour downtown theater project

January 31, 2023
Wide view of Legislative reception Jan 30 2023
Group photo of theater tour

Fitchburg State University this week welcomed dozens of federal, state and local leaders for a discussion and tour of the transformative performing arts center that is being proposed in the heart of Main Street.

“Public universities have an important role to play in the communities that host them,” Fitchburg State President Richard S. Lapidus told the assembled guests, including representatives from more than 15 legislative districts, in addition to Congressional staff members and other state and local cultural and business leaders.

President Lapidus was joined by speakers including State Sen. John Cronin, State Rep. Michael Kushmerek, Fitchburg Mayor Stephen DiNatale, and North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce President Roy Nascimento in explaining the collaborative process that has kept the project moving forward, with state and federal funding complementing the university’s own investments in the key parcel. 

Fitchburg State purchased the long-closed Main Street theater in 2016 and has begun a major project to create a performing arts center at the site. The first phase of the project is already complete, including a state-of-the-art game design studio for students in the capstone game design program, and the ideaLab, a university/community creativity and entrepreneurial space.

As the assembled leaders were informed, the next phase of the project will be the new construction of a “black box” theater adjacent to the main building, designed to accommodate a variety of events and programs with a seating capacity of 250 people. It will serve as a teaching facility for students in the university’s performing arts and humanities, as well as community and external groups. Also known as the "theaterLab," this black box theater will be a point of collaboration for students, educators, and the public at large, with the goal of ensuring that new and diverse public audiences have access to quality arts and humanities programming.

The final phase of the project will be the renovation of the historic theater itself. First opened in 1929 as a vaudeville theater, the 46,250-square-foot building will become a state of the art venue with up to 1,200 seats.

The reception and tour was designed to show the wide economic and cultural impact the performing arts center will have on the city and region. President Lapidus explained the theater project is part of more than $250 million in public and private development now in the pipeline on Fitchburg’s Main Street, including residential, commercial and civic components. The theater project alone is expected to generate millions of dollars a year in ongoing economic activity beyond the initial investments and jobs from the construction itself. 

"We've seen other towns in the region enhance their communities and economies by investing in the arts and I'm so pleased to see this initiative happening now in Fitchburg," said Massachusetts House Speaker Pro Tempore Kate Hogan. "As a result of thoughtful and deliberative planning, coupled with partnerships and collaboration at all levels of business, government and the university, the performances, events and programming offered at the new theater are expected to reach audiences beyond the campus and to positively impact visitors, residents and our local workforce."

“I’m excited for the future when downtown Fitchburg is a destination for people all over Massachusetts and beyond to enjoy live entertainment and theater alongside city residents,” said Mass Cultural Council Executive Director Michael J. Bobbitt, who was among the visitors who toured the theater project. “The rehabilitation of Main Street started with a vision to use arts and culture to rebuild and rebrand, but what stands out to me most is the incredible collaboration amongst state and local leaders, the business community, the arts community, the university, and private citizens to make it happen. This is a model to be replicated across the state. I can’t wait until the ribbon cutting.”