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Wells Fargo Center's renovations to be finished in time for LaBelle

  • Pastor Diaz walks across the balcony of the Ruth Finley Person Theater, which is undergoing a remodel, in the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, in Santa Rosa, on Friday, June 21, 2013. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

The din of power tools echoes inside the cavernous main theater at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts. In seven weeks, the cacophony will be replaced by the soulful voice of Patti LaBelle.

Construction crews are working hard to complete the $2.8 million Ruth Finley Person Theater renovation by the Aug. 14 deadline.

When LaBelle steps onto the upgraded stage two days later, Rick Nowlin will breath a little easier.

"It is going to feel great," said Nowlin, Wells Fargo Center for the Arts executive director, on Tuesday. "The renovation has taken a lot of work, and to see it realized, we are all going to be proud."

The three-month project will finally turn the 1,600-seat theater into a purpose-built performing arts venue, said Kyle Clausen, director of marketing.

When the arts center took over the theater in 1981, it had many quirks. The theater was built in 1974 as part of the Christian Life Center, and a baptismal pool took up a large backstage area.

Performers such as Bill Cosby and Tony Bennett had to climb a set of steps up and over the pool to the stage.

"It wasn't built with artists' access in mind," Clausen said.

The fiberglass pool was outside collecting rainwater earlier this week. Choral risers and closets for choir robes were removed, adding 300 square feet of stage and 700 square feet backstage.

A new spacious dressing room is being built and loading doors are being installed backstage — shows currently load equipment through the lobby and front of the house.

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