The Generic Theater – the theater company housed underneath Chrysler Hall downtown – announced Monday that it is raising funds to renovate the dilapidated Riverview Theater.
The goal of the off-Broadway performance troupe is to make the Riverview, in the Granby Street neighborhood called Riverview Village, its home.
The nonprofit group is hoping the public will help it fund the project.
A post on the Generic’s Facebook page said: “Never in our 40-year history have we ever asked the public to help us raise funds or bail us out of precarious circumstances. We’ve always managed on our own, through ups and downs, recessions and healthy economies.”
Generic Theater Artistic Director Jeannette Rainey said they’re hopeful and excited to make the renovation happen. If the theater group is able to move into its own space, the number of shows the company produces will see an uptick.
“We won’t need six weeks between productions, so we will have shows much more often than we are able to now. We are very excited to get back to having a full calendar,” Rainey said Monday.
Rainey said Generic Theater has not determined exactly how much funding they will need to reopen the theater, but the acquisition of the building is contingent on buying the empty lot next door to develop public parking with more than 100 spaces.
In recent years, the neighborhood has benefited from an increase in consumer traffic thanks to the addition of new businesses and restaurants, like Blanca and Charlie’s American Café.
Rainey said the theater is anxious to aid in the economic boom of Riverview Village.
“If you think about how it works downtown with a show like ‘Hamilton,’ all of those surrounding restaurants benefit from the windfall of people going to see shows at the Chrysler. We want to do that for the businesses in Riverview. We look forward to being a good neighbor and bringing good economic life with us,” she said.
The Riverview Theater opened in 1947. The last attempt to revive the theater came in 2016 from the property’s owner, Richard Levin, who bought the plot of land and connecting storefronts in 1992 for $155,700.
Levin dreamed of turning the Riverview into a dinner-movie venue similar to The Commodore in Olde Towne Portsmouth, but his plans came to a halt when a deal with the city for much-needed off-street parking fell apart, according to a Pilot story from 2016.
The theater was most recently mentioned in a plaNorfolk2030 document – which highlights a “long-range vision of the community in the future” – published in September on the city’s website.
“Encourage the reuse of the Riverview Theater as a component of the redevelopment of the area along Granby Street south of 41st Street,” the document reads, wedged between mentions of marketing Riverview Village to attract “small, independent retailers” and supporting “improvements to the pedestrian environment.”
In the mid-to-late ‘90s, the theater was home to rock and punk concerts, pulling in bands like Quiet Riot and Def Leppard. Before Levin acquired the property, it was used to house Old Dominion University’s theater program starting in 1978 after a stint as a venue for X-rated films.
In 1966, the theater played “The Sound of Music” for 115 weeks straight, which is possibly the longest run of the musical in the country ever.
The Generic Theater is taking donations for the renovation on its website: generictheater.org/donate.
“This is not simple and it will certainly take a village,” Rainey said. “But we are excited beyond what we can express and looking forward to continuing to cultivate local art.”
Amy Poulter, 757-446-2705, firstname.lastname@example.org
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