Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Empire Theatre's Design Firm Wins Top State Award

Posted by Phil Whiteway
Congratulations to our good friends at Commonwealth Architects. They have been selected to receive the 2011 T. David Fitz-Gibbon Award, the highest honor given by the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects. Commonwealth Architects is the firm we've contracted to design the restoration of the neo-classical and art deco facades of the historic Empire and Little Theatres, known jointly as the Empire Theatre Complex. Kjellstrom and Lee is managing the construction. The facade should be fully restored to its 1911 glory, as pictured above and to the right by Feb 2012.

The Fitz-Gibbon Award recognizes a Virginia firm that has consistently produced distinguished architecture during the preceeding decade. The award will be presented at the Virginia AIA's Visions for Architecture Gala, to take place at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts on November 4. In his letter of nomination, Richard Sliwoski, director of the Virginia Dept. of General Services said, "Commonwealth Architects' ... philosophy of reinforcing communities by rehabilitating existing buildings and encouraging compatible infill development is their hallmark.

Robert "Bob" Mills, a founder of the firm in 1999, states that the Richmond-based company has built its practice around a mission of "rebuilding community." The three recent projects that helped to convince us that they were the right firm for our job included:
* the adaptive renovation of the historic Chamberlin Hotel at Fort Monroe into a continuous-care retirement community,
* the transformation of the historic Miller & Rhodes Department Store in downtown Richmond into a mixed-use project featuring condominiums and a Hilton Garden Inn, and
* the redesign and reuse of a historic locomotive manufacturing plant into Bowtie Cinema's Movieland at Boulevard Square.

Commonwealth Architects specializes in pedestrian-scaled, mixed-use urban infill architecture and adaptive use. Over the next decade, as we expand our historic Empire complex to include the property to the west, which we have purchased, and the two properties to the east, on which we hold a right of first refusal, we know that Commonwealth Architects is providing an excellent foundation upon which we can build our expansion.

Commonwealth is also highly experienced in the use of state and federal historic tax credits, a skill set that is now integral to all historic renovations. Investment tax credits can save owners like Theatre IV as much as one-third of a project's rehabilitation costs.

We're proud to know that we're partnering with such a distinguished firm as we continue to exercise appropriate stewardship of our historic treasure--the oldest major theatre in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

--Phil Whiteway

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