Wells Fargo Center to launch $10 million upgrade this spring

  • Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, Wednesday Feb. 27, 2013 in Santa Rosa. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Wells Fargo Center for the Arts announced plans Wednesday for a $10 million upgrade to its building and grounds, starting next month with major improvements to the main auditorium.

The first stage of the four-phase project is a $2.8 million renovation of the 1,600-seat Ruth Finley Person Theater, built in 1974 as part of the Christian Life Center and taken over by the arts center in 1981.

"For 32 years, this facility has served as an arts center for the community, largely due to our staff working around the limitations of the building," said Rick Nowlin, the center executive director. "Now it's time to make some changes. This is a big step in the history of this organization."

The Ruth Finley Person Theater, the largest of several performance spaces at the center, will be closed for renovation from May until mid-August. Some programming will continue in other areas of the center, including the lobby, Nowlin explained.

The announcement comes seven months after the opening of the new $145 million Green Music Center on the Sonoma State University campus in Rohnert Park, which instantly became the preeminent performing arts center in the region. It has to date placed a strong emphasis on classical music, jazz and higher-profile performers.

The Wells Fargo Center continues to book a varied assortment of singers and musicians, dance troupes, comedians and TV celebrities, and has in recent months emphasized family shows and community events.

"We feel like we complement each other very well in terms of the types of programming we offer," Nowlin said of the relationship between the Wells Fargo Center and the Green Music Center.

Long-range improvements to the Wells Fargo Center have been under discussion since 2007 when Nowlin was hired by the center, and $2.5 million toward the cost of the initial phase already has been raised.

"We've been planning this project for several years," he said.

Donors include the Ernest L. and Ruth W. Finley Foundation, the Lytton Rancheria-Lytton Band of Pomo Indians, Alan and Susan Seidenfeld and the board of directors of the Luther Burbank Memorial Foundation.

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