After years of planning and 16 months of construction, the renovation of Duluth’s historic NorShor Theatre is finally nearing completion.
It has been a challenging project by all accounts.
“There was an extraordinary amount of reconstruction work that was unforeseen, and we definitely hit Duluth rock, so we had to manage that,” said Rich Kiemen, senior vice president of construction for Sherman Associates, which redeveloped the building and now owns it.
Tim Huber, the project manager for Johnson Wilson Constructors, the general contractor on the NorShor project, described the old theater as a solid structure but one that also has seen some unorthodox work since its original construction.
Huber said it has been a revelation to see how the building has been “hodgepodged together” since it first opened as the Orpheum Theater in 1910.
“It has been very interesting. We’ve found a lot of old history,” he said.
Some of the discoveries have been expensive, however. Huber said that when preparations to install an orchestra pit in the old theater began, part of the original concrete stage was removed to reveal that it had been poured directly over bedrock. Workers would need to blast away the rock below to make room for musicians.
That was a disappointing day, he recalled.
“With a building of this type, we used every bit of the contingency that was set aside for unforeseen conditions that we had to navigate,” Kiemen said.
In light of the greater-than-anticipated expense of the renovation, Sherman Associates decided shortly into the project to forego earlier hopes of recreating the iconic tower that once stood atop the building. But Kiemen said the project really wasn’t scaled back in any other aspect.
“We looked at it (the tower) from many different ways, but we just couldn’t make it work. That would be the one and only piece of the project that had to go. But all the other components that should make it a good theater for the Playhouse, we hope, have been incorporated into the building,” Kiemen said.