Iafrate had purchased last-minute tickets to a Queen tribute band and was seated at the very top of the balcony in the historic downtown theater.
“I kept looking at these opera boxes and I’m thinking, why isn’t anybody sitting in there,” Iafrate said.
The once famously elegant opera boxes had been largely closed to the public for approximately 70 years with few exceptions. That’s because they didn’t meet modern safety standards and posed a potential fall risk for today’s audience members.
Iafrate set out to change that, and now a new partnership between Hard Rock and the Coronado will make the opera boxes available for Hard Rock’s invited guests. The private viewing area was renovated to keep its historic integrity in tact while allowing seating for six.
Working with the Friends of the Coronado Foundation, Hagney Architects designed the changes and Schmeling Construction handled the work. The renovated opera boxes were unveiled Monday at a news conference at the Coronado.
“Although this project is not large in square foot, it is special,” said Gretchen Gilmore, general manager of the Coronado and other downtown event venues. “It truly took a team to ensure all the little details were incorporated to bring back the opera boxes to the original purpose.”
The opera boxes needed a raised railing in front of the decorative wall for safety. The steps also needed to be relocated to provide room for seating. Beth Howard, president of the nonprofit Friends of the Coronado, said they worked meticulously to find an exact paint match, which ultimately turned out to be an automotive paint found in Milwaukee. Existing carpet inventory was used in the box.
“We really didn’t want it to look like a new change, other than seeing life in the boxes,” Howard said.
The renovated opera boxes brings the total number of seats in the theater from 2,309 to 2,315.
The theater was built in 1927 and renovated in 2001. Since then, more than 1 million guests have walked through Coronado’s doors and roughly 38,000 grade-school students have toured the facility, Howard said.
“We want the kids to have that authentic experience,” Howard said. “Even down to 7 years old, they come in here and they just like to imagine the way things were.”
Club ’27 hospitality suite
Hard Rock’s sponsorship also includes exclusive use of the restored Club ’27 as a hospitality suite. The club, which was home to the original owners in the 1920s, will now be open for Hard Rock’s guests before and after shows and during intermission.
Hard Rock’s guests will often come from participants in its Unity loyalty program, Iafrate said.
That use has also been extended to certain members and sponsors of Rockford Symphony Orchestra, which performs Saturday at the theater under the direction of Radu Paponiu, one of the finalists for the role of the orchestra’s next director.
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The value of the partnership, which includes tickets to the performances, use of Club ’27 and the cost of the restoration project was more than $100,000.
Gilmore said the renovations were unveiled just in time for Coronado’s busy fall season with more than 20 shows already scheduled.
Mayor Tom McNamara said Hard Rock continues to give back to the city. He said when they were initially negotiating the host community agreement with Hard Rock – a deal in which the casino agreed to pay the city at least $7 million annually for allowing it to do business here – several critics said Hard Rock would hurt the Coronado and BMO Harris Bank Center by competing with the venues.
“At every step, the Hard Rock has actually not hurt those organizations; they’ve actually benefited those organizations with their direct dollars as well as their participation at events at both locations,” McNamara said.
McNamara and others at Monday’s press event said the new partnership shows Hard Rock’s commitment to arts and entertainment in the city.
“We are thrilled to welcome a new champion of the Coronado Theater, the Hard Rock Casino,” Howard said.