Sunday, July 25, 2004

Offices to open by Oct. 15

Building new Cincinnati Opera offices in Music Hall has been "like building a ship in a bottle," says design architect James Stapleton of FRCH Design Worldwide, downtown.

Earlier this week, the Enquirer took a hardhat tour of the Opera's new digs in the Corbett Opera Center, a $3.3 million, four-story suite of offices and production space in Music Hall's north wing.

Now 10 months under way, the construction is 75 percent finished; the company should be in the new offices by Oct. 15.

A new box office off a new North Wing lobby will welcome the public. Opera fans can be whisked up a new elevator to the fourth floor, a large, multipurpose space with a wooden floor, suitable for "Opera Rap" lectures, small performances and parties.

It was a tight fit.

"This is as far up as the (floor) could go. If you moved it up another inch, the city would say you can't use this room as a room," says Stapleton, standing on the new fourth floor.

The architects plan to leave visible some of the original, circa-1878 brick-and-stone of the exterior walls, preserving some of the century-old patina inside.

Sunlight floods in through 45 windows, formerly bricked in. The two center floors will hold spacious offices and work stations for administration and production staff.

The project is on time and on budget, despite daunting logistics. The biggest challenge: Installing new steel and concrete to make the new floors, built into a space that once housed bleachers for a 1920s-era boxing arena.

"We had to fit in steel beams, weighing 7,000 pounds and 50 feet long, pretty much by hand," says Greg Morgan, senior project manager, with Frank Messer & Sons.

"It was like a tug of war to pull it in," notes Stapleton.

The Corbett Opera Center was launched`with a gift of $1.5 million from the Corbett Foundation. In June, the company launched the public portion of a $12 million capital and endowment campaign, earmarked to help pay for the balance of the center's costs.

Janelle Gelfand

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