James Arbertha and the POWER Community Development Corporation purchased the historic Dunbar Theatre near 9th and Cleveland 2007 with the goal of reviving the facility that had once been an entertainment hub of Wichita’s African-American community. It appears the reopening of the facility, which closed nearly six after some minor but visible renovations to the building’s exterior almost a decade ago, followed by and year after year where little appeared to happen, the possibility of the theater being brought back to life became harder and harder to believe in. But those who doubted the possibility probably didn’t know about Arbertha’s determination, and, as some say, his darn-right stubbornness. No matter how long it takes, Arbertha is a man who never gives up on his dreams.

Like the Dunbar Theatre, it took Arbertha 14-plus years to make his other big dream for the near northeast community a reality. Everywhere he went, Arbertha talked about his goal of bringing a grocery store to near-Northeast Wichita. When few believed in him, Arbertha never gave up, and in 2004 POWER CDC opened the Sav-A-Lot grocery store in the heart of the community.

Well, doubters, get ready: Construction should start by the end of this year on the Phase 1A renovation of the Dunbar Theatre.

Earlier this week, members of the Dunbar Theatre Advisory Board were finalizing selections for paint colors, flooring and ceiling tiles with Tony Rangel,

the project architect. These are just a few of the steps needed to finalize the project’s construction plans. The next steps will be to put the project out to bid, award the construction contract, and watch the rehab begin. According to Rangel, Phase decades, the historic Dunbar Theater is finally should reopen for the public soon. The building original opened in 1941 and closed in 1964 is expected to cost $18 million, Rangel expects this phase of the project to come in at under $500,000.

Dunbar theatre inside old masonic lodge meeting party

Christmas party sponsored by Emith Temple, a fraternal organization, at the Dunbar Theatre in December 1947. During segregation, the Dunbar was a place for Black groups and organizations to have meetings and parties.  

This phase of the project includes refinishing all of the building surfaces, including the floors, ceilings and walls, construction of two ADA-compatible bathrooms and two offices, and installation of the heating and air, plumbing and electrical. As designed, under Phase 1a, the facility will function as a community meeting and reception center.

Because the building is on the Historic Registry, Rangel says they are being required as much as possible to renovate the facility to match its historical roots. Funding for the Phase 1A construction has been secured thanks to grants, donations, fundraising and contributions from the City of Wichita. Additional funding is still needed for the interior furnishings such as tables, chairs, desks and audio-visual equipment. Also, Rangel says he’s preparing the construction plans with some “add-ons.” These are additional “like to haves,” they may add on to the initial phase if additional funding becomes available. One of those add-ons he’d hope to be able to fund are acoustical tiles for the walls. While they’re not essential to the opening of the facility, Rangel said they’ll go a long way towards improving the sound quality in the facility. With a list of add-ons and must-haves, i.e. furnishings, you can expect members of the advisory board to be out fundraising while the building is under construction.

Once the contract is let – most likely during the second half of 2021 – the facility could be ready for an official opening as early as late 2021 or

early 2022. While members of the community may be happy to see the building open, don’t expectmembers of the advisory board to rest for long.

Their vision is much greater than Phase 1A, so they’ll begin the work needed to get Phase 1Bup and running. Phase 1B includes additional

improvements to the existing structure and an addition on the northeast side of the building. The addition will function as a new entry area with

bathrooms, concession stands and offices. The original theater lacked an inside lobby area and individuals who walked up to buy a ticket are forced to stand outside in the elements.

Oh, and then there’s phase I Dunbar Theatre Ground Breaking Ceremony Set kansas Gov. Laura Kelly will be the sees guest at the “groundbreaking” for the Phase 1A renovations of the Historic Dunbar Theatre, 1007 N. Cleveland, Wichita, KS. The ceremony will be held on Wed., June2 at 2 p.m. During the ceremony, executives fromWalmart, will present the organization with their second $50,000 contribution to the renovation project.

While Phase 1A consists totally of inside renovations, with no new ground needing to be broken, Sen. Oletha Faust Goudeau, says members of the Dunbar Advisory Group did not want this special moment, which was 14 years in the making, to go by without recognition. ‘We may be outside on the slab or our architect may set us up inside the building,” said Faust Goudeau, “but this is the kind of historic point in this project that deserves recognition.” »

Since 1996, Bonita has served as as Editor-in-Chief of The Community Voice newspaper. As the owner, she has guided the Wichita-based publication’s growth in reach across the state of Kansas and into...

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