CITY OF OURAY Wright renovations making progress in short time frame

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By Sheridan Block

Crinkled strips of brown paper cover the windows and locked doors of the Wright Opera House. Despite being closed since early February, the 125-year-old venue is still bustling with activity as contractors and volunteers move to and fro, lugging in boards and tools and hauling out walls and sawdust.
Stepping inside the construction zone, one sees many obvious changes have been made to the main floor alone, including a newly installed elevator shaft, allowing access to the basement as well as the theater, and a winding staircase, adding an elegant and aesthetic appeal. Other improvements include additional restrooms, which are ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) compliant, as well as an internal staircase leading to the basement, providing more functionality for the space.

The theater itself will see a slight expansion, as volunteers have removed the storage area, taken down the balcony and relocated the sound and lighting equipment. According to the Wright’s Executive Director Josh Gowans, while only a small square footage has been added with the new arrangements in the theater, the changes will allow for at least two additional seats in the audience.
“All is going swell,” said fundraising chair Joyce Linn.
The projected four-month closure, from February to mid-May, allows for the first phase of renovations to be completed as part of the Friends of the Wright Opera House’s capital project to restore and improve the century-old building.
Referred to as the “Access Project,” this phase mainly focuses on providing access for more individuals through inclusion of the elevator, improvements to the staircase and other lobby and theater enhancements. Fundraising for the project lasted nearly a year, with funds coming in primarily from private donors and grants from organizations such as El Pomar Foundation and Gates Family Foundation.
Following the Access Project, the next phase will look to improve the building’s infrastructure, including a new roof, foundation repair, plumbing and electrical upgrades, heating and air conditioning and restoration and preservation of the iconic facade.
The Wright is expected to reopen mid-May, and while Linn noted that it’s “going to be tight” she believes performances will continue as scheduled.
“That’s our hope. You have to keep your fingers crossed,” she said.
Gowans noted that installation of the elevator may not be completed in time for the re-opening, as storms on the east coast have delayed production of parts, but he remains optimistic.
With all the changes, Linn noted that the group will need to do “a little more fundraising” for everything planned. While contractors and construction work have been budgeted and paid for, additional funding for all finishes and material — wallpaper, extra carpeting, paint, etc. — is still needed. Likewise, complete rehabilitation of the theater, another future project, will need an additional $2 million in funding with grants and donations, said Linn.
Despite the need for further fundraising, Linn has faith that the community will pull through as it always has. She mentioned that people have been amazingly connected to the Wright and have really rallied around the project.
Additionally, anyone interested in volunteering with the project is welcome to do so. Volunteers can contact Gowans at 970-325-4399 or e-mail him at
While things are still scattered in the dust at the Wright, Gowans said he hopes this project will help people visualize the direction and potential of the beloved venue. Noting that the arts community in the county is thriving, he hopes changes at the Wright will help further interest and awareness.