Return of Civic, Saenger Theatres add to downtown resurgence

On O'Keefe Avenue Thursday, crews spent hours putting the finishing touches on the Civic Theatre's grand reopening.

"It's completely state-of-the-art. It's so beautiful. So much time and attention to detail went into every aspect of this venue that seeing a show here is such a unique experience," said Carmen Negrelli with The Bowery Presents South, which is handling bookings at the Civic.

Negrelli said several hundred concert-goers snapped up tickets to see Australian music group Empire of the Sun, the first major live act to take the stage at a newly-renovated venue with a history dating back to 1906.

"We're just really excited to be on the forefront of the burgeoning [Central Business District] and, you know, so many exciting development projects are going on in New Orleans right now, so we're really happy to be a part of it," Negrelli said.

A couple blocks away, a freshly-lit marquee outside the Saenger Theatre is a sign of yet more progress in the Theater District's revival.  The legendary venue makes its grand return next weekend.

Across the street from the Saenger, the stage was set for another big show Thursday night at the Joy Theater, which reopened in 2011.

"[The theaters are] really going to bring all of that [history] back, and bring that old-time feel back that Canal Street used to have. And along with all of the wonderful renovations with the VA Hospital and everything, I can only see it going up from here,' said Joy Theater Operations Manager Alexa Poper.

According to New Orleans CityBusiness Editor-in-Chief Greg LaRose, the many theater reopenings - including that of the Mahalia Jackson - stand as big stories on their own. And he believes they'll help spur even more development along Canal Street and across the downtown area.

"It's symbolic as much as it is a big stride for development of New Orleans post-Katrina. It's indicative of a lot of redevelopment of not just Canal Street, but all of downtown," LaRose said. "You can look at it now and say, 'Okay, well, there's something there that's going to draw people at certain hours and certain times of year that I'm going to think about... what can I do that's complimentary?' Otherwise I think a few years back, [developers] would have just passed it up because of the lack of activity in that area."

While the theaters may compete for business in some ways, their staffs also see themselves as joining forces in the name of progress.

"There's just a very different dynamic of the type of plays that are going to be coming to each of our buildings, so I think that we can only complement each other in every single way possible," Poper said.

Thursday, the Joy Theater hosted "Beatlemania," a show that runs through the weekend. The Civic boasts a growing fall lineup of concerts, including The Black Crowes, Passion Pit, Bonobo, Stephen Lynch, Russell Brand and Galactic's Halloween show, among others.

The Saenger, meanwhile, is set for its grand reopening next Friday, September 27, with comedian Jerry Seinfeld.