‘Reimagining the Merriam’: Shape the future of a historic Philly theater

A view from the balcony of the Merriam. (Photo courtesy of the Kimmel Center.)

As the 100th birthday of the Merriam Theater approaches, its owner and operator, the Kimmel Center, is gearing up for a major overhaul of this historic performance space. If you have an opinion about the future of the Kimmel campus, now is your chance to speak up.

The 1,761-seat Merriam opened in August 1918, and the Kimmel Center operated it for eight years before formally purchasing it in late 2016. Also encompassing the Academy of Music and Kimmel stages, this Philly performing-arts campus boasts 1,400 performances per year (including work from eight resident companies) for more than a million people, making it the country’s second-largest, after New York’s Lincoln Center. Including a six-story office building on South Broad that adjoins the Merriam,19,500 square feet are up for consideration with this remodel.  

The Kimmel says there’s no question the Merriam will be preserved as a performance venue, but architects from KieranTimberlake are already on board for a feasibility study that has so far yielded a range of options. Renovations of existing buildings are on the table, as well as a replacement of the office building, with new construction that could allow for an expanded lobby and amenities.

The Kimmel has retained architect and civic planner Harris Steinberg, leader of the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation at Drexel, to helm public discussion about the site’s future. Meanwhile, it’s preparing to launch a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) “to gauge interest in the Merriam project among the development community.”

Getting the public’s take will be important, too. Three free “Reimagining the Merriam” discussions are coming up at the theater, facilitated by Steinberg; Harris Solokoff, director of the Penn Project for Public Engagement; and First Degree Consulting CEO Erica Atwood.

The first session is Sunday, September 24, from 11am to 1:30pm; the second is later that day, from 4 to 6:30pm; the third is happening on Monday, September 25, from 6 to 8:30pm. The Kimmel notes that the 4pm Sunday session is booked, with limited seats available for the Sunday morning and Monday evening sessions, but walk-ins are still encouraged and will be admitted on a first-come, first-served basis as long as there’s space.

Click here to reserve your seat, or call (215) 893-1999.

“Our goal is to use the community engagement process, including the public discussion, as way to inform the preservation and development process moving forward,” says Kimmel president and CEO Ann Ewers. She hopes that a “rejuvenated theater space” to serve the greater Philly region’s diverse interests is waiting in the wings.