The Robinson Center renovation feels like a long time coming, it has been talked about since the early 2010’s and has been in progress since 2014. Finally though the wait is over, and it is well worth the wait.
Just like when we previewed the progress earlier this year, the first thing you will notice is that this is not the Robinson Center you knew before. The outside of the building is still mostly intact, aside from the protruding conference rooms from the side and some new public art exhibits. Inside it is a different story.
The main auditorium hall is completely redesigned. They dropped the floor around 36 feet, to put that in perspective, the stage came previously where the middle balcony starts. The rest is a dramatic overhaul that puts Robinson Center as one of the best facilities of its kind in the region.
The seating views are vastly improved from the previous setup, there really are no bad seats in the house, which is something that could not be said of Robinson before. It is a very dramatic and striking appearance compared to before, and the performance enhancements with acoustics should make watching a performance here better than ever.
Not everything is completely new, and that is a good thing. The renovation kept a number of original elements and tried to recreate others. In the “Historic lobby” a number of panels original to the center that had become damaged were recreated, while previously ignored facade features were restored and made a focal point. In the areas that the renovation had to build onto the original structure there was a strong effort to retain some of the original outside wall. There is even a exhibit room that features the original Robinson stage floor and historic photos of the location. It is a great blend of the old and new.
Dropping the stage required major changes to the catering and banquet areas, which accounts for most of the 4,500 additional square feet added. The private rooms and ballroom are on a completely different level from before, with wide breathtaking views of the Arkansas River. The upper rooms feature a wide terrace that makes the view even more dramatic.
It will all be even more dramatic once the Broadway Bridge is completed. Thankfully the bridge’s delayed development has no impact on the Robinson Center aside from some careful coordination with loading and unloading events. Once complete though, a wide plaza that leads into the pedestrian path on the bridge will be added that should be a popular spot before and after shows.
With all the massive changes, the Robinson Center managed to stick to the original $70 million budget and finished very close to the original estimated time. Something that is almost unheard of in major construction projects.
The Robinson Center officially reopens today and the first use of the space will be on the 19th with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.