The Wyo Theater in downtown Laramie is approaching its 100th anniversary, and with any luck an effort to revive the historic, aging building could be well on its way by the time the milestone arrives.
Laramie Main Street acquired the theater in the fall of 2019. It hasn’t been open to the public in several years and to put it gently, the building is showing its age.
A new fundraising effort began last week with the goal of raising $1.5 million in several phases to bring the building up to code and eventually put it back into service as a mixed-use entertainment venue.
“This is the one shot at something like this existing in Laramie,” said Rob Harder, who chairs the Revive the Wyo Committee.
The 800-seat Wyo Theater sits on Fifth Street between Grand Avenue and Garfield Street in downtown Laramie. It was built in 1925 as the Crown Theater and remodeled and renamed in 1950. It was operated as a movie theater until about five years ago and has since fallen into disrepair. These days, it’s hard to miss the bright teal exterior stucco walls and boarded-up vintage façade.
Harder and Trey Sherwood, executive director of Laramie Main Street, envision the fully remodeled theater as a versatile space with food-service capabilities. It could be used for screened or live events with movable seats for added flexibility. A kitchen could serve food and drinks or support catered events.
“Based on feedback we’ve received from the public and good business practices, we want to have the space as flexible as possible,” Sherwood said.
Main Street would eventually lease the finished theater to be run as a standalone business, and it would add to the downtown district’s cultural scene while also supporting economic development.
“It’s been proven in a lot of other communities that something like this can be a huge asset to a community,” Harder said. “People want to come downtown and see a show and not have to be in a bar.”
The Gryphon Theater sits a couple blocks to the east in the Laramie Plains Civic Center. It’s larger than the Wyo but is located inside the converted high school. Laramie’s other downtown freestanding theater, the Empress, closed in the 1970s and was demolished in 2009.
Sherwood said the renovation budget is sizeable, but building from scratch would cost three times as much, which would render such a project unfeasible.
“Renovation is the more economical way,” she said.
Since the building was donated two years ago, Main Street has been working behind the scenes. It has consulted with architects, engineers and the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality to assess the building’s condition and make a plan. The organization also replaced the leaking roof, which was an urgent need.
“The roof was going to ruin the whole building if it didn’t get patched,” Harder said.
During the first phase of rehabilitation, for which Main Street is hoping to raise $600,000, main projects would include installing a fire suppression system, bringing the electrical and plumbing systems up to code, redoing the bathrooms and making the building ADA compliant. At that point, the balcony — closed for decades — could be re-opened and the theater potentially put into use again, at least for movies.
“The first push is really about getting the building safe,” Sherwood said. “The bones are here and structurally everything is great, but we have to bring it up to code.”
Eventually, the stage would be enlarged to accommodate live shows, a kitchen would be installed and even the façade would receive a long-overdue makeover.
Last Friday’s NU2U Street Dance kick-started the fundraising campaign, raising about $10,000.
Main Street wants to keep the project community-led, and the organization is seeking stories and photos from the public to showcase the theater’s long history. Volunteers and donations also are welcome.
“We want to honor the memories the community has of this space and make sure they’re relevant to the work as we move forward,” Sherwood said.
A diary of the project’s progress can be found online at laramiemainstreet.org/thewyo.