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$3.3 million renovation will bring historic Benson Theatre 'back to life'

$3.3 million renovation will bring historic Benson Theatre 'back to life'

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A rendering shows what the front of the Benson Theatre, 6054 Maple St., will look like after renovation. Opening night could come as soon as the spring of 2021. The building has been vacant since 2010.

Live performances at the historic Benson Theatre could take the stage as early as next spring now that the nonprofit group that operates it has secured a key source of funding.

Renovation of the building near 60th and Maple Streets has been a longtime vision of the theater’s executive director, Amy Ryan, and the organization she leads. The plan is to create a shared community space for theatrical performances, educational programs and other events.

This month, the Omaha City Council voted unanimously to give the project up to $400,000 in tax-increment financing, a tool known as TIF designed to spur economic development in blighted areas.

“I am humbled, honored, and completely thrilled to have this opportunity to bring Benson Theatre back to life,” Ryan said in an email.

Approval of TIF was one of the final dominoes in getting the renovation started. Fundraising will cover the majority of the estimated $3.3 million project.

Construction will begin in the next month, and opening night could come as soon as the spring of 2021. Ryan said organizers are still obtaining some city permits and are seeking historic tax credits for the renovation.

The Benson Theatre building, 6054 Maple St., was built in 1923 and opened as a vaudeville house called the Benalto Theater. After that, it housed a few different businesses, including a movie theater and an appliance store. It has been vacant since 2010.

A new, larger stage will be built to accommodate different art forms, but parts of the original stage from the 1920s will be repurposed and showcased in the theater and the lobby, Ryan said.

A conceptual image of the renovated theater by Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture shows an updated brick facade with a vertical, electric sign above the marquee.

The renovated theater will hold a mix of educational and entertainment events. Ryan said organizers plan to put on quarterly independent programming, such as vaudeville shows, cabarets and other live performances. The theater will be equipped for full productions as well as films, concerts, comedy and poetry events and dance productions.

During the day, the space will hold educational events.

The theater has more than 100 artistic and educational community partners that will have access to the space. One such partner, called SCORE, will offer financial education to local artists, Ryan said.

Councilman Pete Festersen, who represents the Benson area, said during a recent council meeting he appreciated the “labor of love” Ryan has put into the project.

“This is a missing link, I think, in Benson,” Festersen said.


Our best staff photos of May 2020

reece.ristau@owh.com, 402-444-1127, @reecereports

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Reece covers Sarpy County for The World-Herald. He's a born-and-raised Nebraskan and UNL grad who spent time in Oklahoma and Virginia before returning home. Follow him on Twitter @reecereports. Phone: 402-444-1127

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