Saturday, June 15, 2019
Unusual Groundbreaking Ushers in Era of the Argyros Performing Arts Center
Lisa and Julia Argyros got first honors when it came to turning dirt—or, rather, sand.
Tuesday, July 11, 2017


It was a building breaking AND a groundbreaking.

Before the shovels came into play, longtime nexStage Theater Manager Kathy Wygle picked up a sledgehammer and knocked in a door at the nexStage Theater.

It wasn’t a real door—it was a part of a false front cobbled together from old stage sets. But it stood as a symbol of the theater, which was still standing three months after builders had hoped to tear it down.

Kathy Wygle said the building breaking and groundbreaking was both sad and exciting.

“It served us well,” said Wygle, noting the transition from the nexStage Theatre to the new Argyros Performing Arts Center. “All the arts groups in the valley have used this theater. And I want to assure them that this will be their home in the future, as well.”

A hundred people—many of them representatives of various arts groups—braved temperatures in the 80s Friday afternoon to watch the groundbreaking.

Project Manager Jim Garrison had hoped to tear the old building down in April. But getting to the demolition stage took longer than expected as City Hall took longer dotting its I’s and crossing its T’s than the project’s supporters had expected.

Then, Garrison had difficulty securing the heavy duty equipment needed to begin the actual work.

Bill Lowe, Tom Perakos and Michael Marks turned dirt after the Agyros ladies before offering the shovels for anyone else to take part.

That’s why sand had to be emptied from sandbags used to protect Ketchum from flooding to stage the actual groundbreaking.

Julia Argyros, who gave $2.5 million towards the center along with her husband George Argyros, turned the first shovel full of dirt alongside her daughter Lisa, who just bought a house four blocks from the theater.

“This is going to be a world-class performing arts center, and that warms my heart,” Julie Argyros said.

The nexStage, with its iconic medieval tower and flag, had its genesis as Sun Valley Motors in 1967.

Tim Mott, a driving factor behind the new center, described nexStage Theatre Manager Kathy Wygle as “the glue and epoxy” that held the nexStage Theatre together for 15 years.

“We bought my wife’s jeep there,” noted Ketchum comedian Mike Murphy, who has performed stand-up comedy at the theater more times than he can remember. “The new center will be the most sophisticated theater space west of the Mississippi.”

A group of local citizens formed the nonprofit Sun Valley Performing Arts to turn the property into a theater in 2002. It wasn’t ideal. It had no backstage, for instance, so actors had to change in the downstairs bathrooms and wait their turn to go on stage in a hallway in the adjacent Kentwood Lodge.

But the late actor Keith Moore loved the theater, nevertheless, recounted Wygle.

“Keith loved this theater so much. He would be mopping the floors and couldn’t be happier. He would rather be in the theater than any place in the world because it was ours,” she said.

The theater has shown its age during the past few years, however. The roof leaks and the electrical wiring has worn out.

The 25,000-square foot Argyros Performing Arts Center, designed by Ketchum architect Michael Doty and San Francisco-based Auberbach Pollock Friedlander, will boast a main theater that can seat up to 450 people.

It will also feature a studio theater seating 45 people that can be used for classes and meetings, a 2,000-square foot plaza and gathering space and a 2,000-square foot lobby and cafe. Augmenting all that will be state-of-the-art seating, lighting, projection systems and a Meyer Constellation Sound system.

Ketchum restaurateurs have given their blessing to a catering kitchen that will allow them to service events at the theater.

The new theater will present national and international artists, ensembles and events, as well as local events. They’ll run the gamut from theater, comedy, dance, speakers, film and educational workshops.

So far, $8.1 million has been donated for the $12 million project.

“It always takes an act of extreme generosity to move a project like this forward, and that happened here with the contribution of Julia and George Argyros to the project,” said Tim Mott.

“It’s been my dream for here years,” said Robert DeGennaro, co-chair of the finance campaign. “I want to see a world-class performing arts center here.”

Actress Patsy Wygle said that the theater’s ghost light, used to guard against the requisite ghosts of the theater and provide a light to keep the theater manager from tripping over cords, will be moved to temporary quarters catty-corner from the theater. It will be placed in the new theater as a symbol of continuity when that project is finished.

Most of the demolition will be done by hand because the theater is so close to the Kentwood Lodge, said Jim Garrison.

“At the peak we’ll have 45 guys tearing apart rebar and other materials using electrical saws and other hand tools,” he said. “Wrap City will be pleased, as a lot of the guys will be buying their lunches locally.”


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