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Friday, April 12, 2024
HomeNewsLocal newsReichhold Center Still Needs Millions to Rebuild and Reopen

Reichhold Center Still Needs Millions to Rebuild and Reopen

R&B great Jeffrey Osborne mixes it up with the Reichhold audience when he and Freddie Jackson performed together in 2015. (Photo courtesy Reichhold Center for the Arts)

Once a premier artistic venue in the Eastern Caribbean, the pride of the University of the Virgin Islands, and the joy of the St. Thomas community, the Reichhold Center for the Arts now sits closed and broken, still awaiting restoration from the damages caused by the 2017 hurricanes.

As just one of nine UVI structures destroyed by the storms, there was little insurance relief available for the center, officials say, so it is relying heavily on the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In the six years-plus since hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the Virgin Islands, the federal government has inundated the territory with tens of millions of dollars of disaster relief grants for housing, health, education, utilities and other infrastructure, but FEMA is still negotiating on funding requests for the Reichhold.

Meanwhile, officials for the center say they are reluctant to actively campaign for donations until they know whether the anticipated FEMA grant will leave them with a shortfall and if it does, just how much money they will need to make up the difference.

The delay in funding was unexpected. An October 2020 article in a UVI newsletter said the center was slated to reopen in 2021.

“We don’t know why it’s taking so long,” said Pamela Moolenaar-Wirsiy, who recently took over as the UVI interim vice president in charge of securing funding for the project. She and Denise Humprey, longtime director of the Reichhold, spoke with the Source Friday.

Moolenaar-Wirsiy was reluctant to reveal cost estimates for restoring the facility, saying, “I’ve heard, probably five different numbers.”

Ashley Murphy and Davon Dowe from the Dance Theater of Harlem graced the Reichhold stage in 2012. (Photo courtesy Reichhold Center for the Arts)

Pressed, the officials gave ballpark figures that added up to about $28 million. That represents an estimated $19 million worth of construction, another $5 million for technical equipment and $4 million that UVI already spent replacing the roof.

The roofing was completed several years ago in an effort to protect the facility from further water damage. But, Moolenaar-Wirsiy said, “Later we learned we shouldn’t have” replaced it because FEMA may not cover that cost now.

And while performances are halted, there’s no money coming into the ticket office. Humphrey estimated lost revenues amount to about $8 million to date.

Just how far apart are FEMA and the Reichhold?

“Maybe $10 million or so,” Moolenaar-Wirsiy said. “It’s closer than we were when we started the negotiations.”

After Irma roared through, not much was left of the 1,200-seat outdoor amphitheater, the stage and the offices and exhibit areas beneath it or the grounds surrounding it on UVI’s St. Thomas campus.

The first sight of the destruction was an emotional jolt for Humphrey, who has worked at the center for 27 years, starting as a student intern. By 2014, she was running the show as interim director. Ironically, she was named the permanent director in 2017, not long before the storms.

“We lost everything,” she said. “Everything was compromised.”

Trees were twisted and pulled out of the ground, the stage was ruined, a concrete section of the roof had been ripped off, and downstairs, “the interior of the building was like a pool,” she said. Preparing for the storm, staff had attempted to protect photos, archives, artwork, and other items by storing them below, where they were protected from the wind, only to lose them to the flooding.

“Right now, the building’s an empty shell,” she said, a shell covered in mold.

Humphrey said the roof replacement was Phase I of the restoration project. A contractor has already been selected for Phase II — rebuilding the structure. Phase III will be replacing technical equipment.

Natalie Cole sang at the Reichhold Center in 2014. (Photo courtesy Reichhold Center for the Arts)

Despite the destruction and the funding delays, Humphrey said, “We haven’t been dead.”

Since the storms, the center has partnered with the V.I. Council on the Arts, with the Kennedy Center and the Arts Across America program, with the V.I. Division of Cultural Education, and with other local and U.S. groups on numerous art projects.

Last summer, it relaunched the Youth Moviemaking Workshop, a project first introduced in 2001 by former, longtime director David Edgecombe. Students produced the movie “About Time.” This year, Humphrey said, they will have the added benefit of guidance from two professors from Temple University.

The center also has leant expertise and equipment to some St. Thomas public and private schools, helped restore the Frederick D. Dorsch Cultural Activity Center in Frederiksted, introduced children to traditional arts and crafts, sponsored live-streaming programs to showcase local musicians and artists, and partnered with NASA and with UVI on various streaming projects, Humphrey added.

There are more “creative things” in the works, Moolenaar-Wirsiy said. Reichhold is not only a facility, it’s also “the people.”

The center opened in 1978. It is named for businessman and philanthropist Henry Reichhold, who was a supporter of what was then the College of the Virgin Islands and who donated $3.5 million to build the amphitheater.

Over the decades, the Reichhold Center has hosted U.S., Caribbean, and international stars. It also served as a venue for local talent, including musicians, chorale groups and actors. Performances have included dramatic productions, circus acts, classical musicians, calypsonians, reggae artists, folk singers, ballet, jazz greats, popular singers, and comedians — and virtually all types of family entertainment.

Humphrey provided a list of “notable past performers” as a sampling of Reichhold offerings over the years:

  • Count Basie & His Orchestra
  • Marcel Marceau
  • Puerto Rico Symphony
  • Herbie Mann
  • Roberta Flack
  • Sarah Vaughan
  • Nancy Wilson
  • Nathalie Cole
  • Dance Theater of Harlem
  • Dizzie Gillespie
  • Alvin Ailey Repertory Company
  • Itzhak Perlman
  • Cab Calloway
  • Ray Charles
  • Chuck Mangione
  • Eartha Kitt
  • Tito Puente
  • Tito Puente Jr.
  • Miriam Makeba & Hugh Masekela
  • Homer Bryant
  • Ladysmith Black Mambazo
  • The Boston Pops Traveling Ensemble
  • Ellis Marsalis
  • Denyce Graves
  • Third World
  • Beres Hammond
  • Spyro Gyra
  • Celia Cruz
  • Jeffrey Osborne
  • El Grand Combo
  • Issac Hayes
  • Al Jarreau
  • The O’Jays
  • Kool & the Gang
  • Angelique Kidjo
  • Savion Glover
  • George Benson
  • Chris Botti
  • Al Green
  • Mario
  • Tarrus Riley
  • Billy Ocean
  • Michael McDonald
  • Steel Pulse
  • Machel Montano
  • Chaka Khan
  • Michael Bolton
  • Jimmy Cliff
  • India Arie
  • The Commodores
  • Sheila E.
  • Common
  • Maxi Priest
  • Shaggy
  • Pressure
  • Babyface
  • Kirk Franklin
  • Brandy
  • KyMani Marley & the Wailers

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