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Historic Plaza Theatre in Downtown Palm Springs receives $5 million donation for restoration

Former Palm Springs City Councilmember and current Planning Commission vice-chair J.R. Roberts held a news conference on Wednesday morning to announce a significant development in the restoration of the historic Plaza Theatre in downtown Palm Springs.

Roberts announced that David Lee, co-creator of "Fraiser" and a Palm Springs resident, has pledged $5 million to jumpstart the extensive renovation project. A ceremonial check was presented at the event, which took place outside the entrance of the theatre.

“He wanted a way to give back. The city of Palm Springs...we’re super blessed he decided to bestow that on us,” said Roberts.

“I strongly believe in the preservation of historic American theatres,” said Lee. “I’ve been impressed with the planning that has already gone into the admirable restoration project for the Plaza Theatre and saw an opportunity for me to assist in this impressive campaign. I hope that my donation will spark interest in others who feel as strongly as I do about preserving our city’s past and creating a quality entertainment space for future generations.”

Roberts says they plan to raise at least an additional $5 million to help with the renovation.

The Plaza Theater is one of Palm Springs' most iconic structures. The theater first opened its doors in Dec. 1936 and for 80 years hosted many major events and performances throughout the city's history, As the years went by, however, the building fell into despair and closed its doors in 2014.

In 2019, the city, led by Roberts, launched a campaign to restore the Plaza Theater to its former glory. The campaign was in its early efforts when the COVID-19 pandemic halted activities and fundraising attempts.

City leaders said it would take approximately $10 million to $12 million to fund the restoration project.

Roberts says they’ll be keeping the historic structure of the theatre intact, but making improvements to the roofing, stage, lighting, and seating areas. The theatre will also become ADA compliant. 

“To have a theater almost 100 years old on the verge of being renovated and used astonishing,” said Steven Tifft, Manager, Brandini Toffee Palm Springs. 

Tifft says the businesses in the area are also looking forward to the renovation’s impact. “The number of people that it’s going to draw to local’s gonna be great for downtown,” he said.  

One of the next big events to be held at the theatre? Oasis Music Festival in January. 

“It’s going to animate the plaza theatre again and hopefully up to 50 other venues that exist in the city of Palm Springs,” said Frank Jones, Publisher, Palm Springs Life Magazine. 

Organizers hope the four day event brings attention and additional donations to the town’s beloved venue. 

“After all, the theatre isn't anything unless it’s being used. That’s the spirit of the music festival and that’s the significance of what’s taken place today with this donation,” added Jones. 

The commission said they are hoping to raise the estimated $10-$12 million total for the project. They plan to continue those efforts in the coming months. 

Watch News Channel 3 at 5:00 for more on the donation and the latest on the effort to save the Plaza Theater.

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Madison Weil


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