Livingston Arts Council Takes Key Step in Historic Opera House Restoration

posted by metrognome77 on May 12, 2006 at 5:16 am

LANSING, MI — Master-planning will commence this spring, for the transformation of the original Opera House into a historically updated version of what Opera House patrons might have experienced in the 1800s. The owner of The Opera House, Livingston Arts Council (LAC), has chosen The Christman Company of Lansing and the Ann Arbor office of SmithGroup, Inc., as its design/build team to develop a master plan for the restoration.

The project will begin with a review of a 2001 Development Plan Report and a series of quality, cost and modeling workshops to assist LAC in identifying and balancing its needs, priorities and cost constraints. The series of workshops will help determine a detailed project scope and schedule for the building’s eventual restoration.

“This project is especially meaningful because much of our staff, me included, is from Livingston County and call the County home,” said Ron Staley, Director of National Preservation at The Christman Company. “I have personally witnessed the difference made in the community by the preservation of the Livingston County Courthouse and the Carnegie Library (other local Christman projects). This project will provide the community with more than a theater; it will also give us a more complete glimpse into the past.”

“Restoration of a significant historic structure can often be a daunting task,” says Gene Hopkins, SmithGroup’s Director of Historic Preservation. “However, when you pair up the right community with the right project, it’s like watching magic happen. The Livingston Arts Council understands this and realizes how important heritage is to their community’s legacy. When the theater is restored, it will be a cultural center affecting citizens far beyond Livingston County and SmithGroup is proud to make a project like this part of our legacy.”

Supporting the team will be Edward Francis of GunnLevine Architects, Detroit, MI. Francis is the author of the Development Plan Report from 2001; he brings considerable theater programming, planning and restoration experience to the team. Since its completion in 1880, ownership of the Opera House changed along with community demand. Until recently, the building existed as a local hardware store. Three years ago, the LAC purchased the Opera House with plans to transform the Opera House into a new multi-purpose community arts and cultural center intended to host professional musical acts, lectures and plays.

Livingston Arts Council President Brent Earl explains, “Over the past 80 years, the curtain has remained closed on the Opera House. In its dormant state, the detail has been left remarkably untouched for much of its lifespan. The conservation of the Opera House has made it the most pristine, unaltered opera house in the country. We now have an opportunity and a responsibility to the people of Howell, to re-invigorate the Opera House, and to recapture its original grandeur.”

The Christman Company and SmithGroup have enjoyed a long and successful working relationship, dating back to 1927 for the construction of the SBC Building in Detroit, MI. Together, the two firms have completed more than $130 million in projects including the $4 million historic restoration of the Fort Mackinac Wall on Mackinac Island and the $7 million restoration of the Skillman Branch of the Detroit Public Library. Other collaborative efforts include the nearly $2 million restoration of the Earhart Manor at Concordia University in Ann Arbor, and the $78 million MSU Biomedical and Physical Sciences Facility in East Lansing.

The Christman Company ( is a full service construction services firm, offering construction management, general contracting, design/build, and real estate development. Founded in 1894, Christman has grown to become one of the Midwest’s leading construction firms, serving the educational, healthcare, historic restoration, and other commercial market sectors. With full-service offices in Grand Rapids, Lansing, Ann Arbor, Petoskey and Traverse City, Michigan, as well as Alexandria, Virginia, Christman is presently managing a wide range of construction projects.

SmithGroup, Inc. ( is composed of client industry-focused practices serving the science & technology, health, learning, interiors, workplace and planning markets. Established in 1853, SmithGroup is the longest operating architecture and engineering firm in the U.S. and has offices in Ann Arbor, MI; Chicago, IL; Detroit, MI; Los Angeles, CA; Madison, WI; Minneapolis, MN; Phoenix, AZ; San Francisco, CA; and Washington, D.C.

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