Ritz Theater needs new roof

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 12, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Where the average onlooker sees a half-collapsed building filled with rain-soaked debris, the Historic Natchez Foundation sees, potentially, a theater.

But making that vision for the old Ritz Theater building a reality is going to take hundreds of thousands of dollars &045; and a completely new roof.

Several months ago, most of the building’s roof collapsed &045; all but the part covering the theater’s balcony, which is filled with items stored from a department store that once stood next door.

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But even that part must be replaced because it is structurally unsound, a structural engineer specializing in historic properties said Tuesday.

In late December, Natchez businessman David Paradise and Baton Rouge real estate investor and Native native Burk Baker bought the Commerce Street building.

They donated it to the foundation for renovation.

A plan and estimates for replacing the roof won’t be finished until the end of the month. But the Historic Natchez Foundation has estimated it will take at least $200,000 to reroof and rewire the building, restore its faSade, clean out debris and do other needed work.

The foundation isn’t going to let Tuesday’s news bring down their plans, said Mimi Miller, the foundation’s director of education and preservation.

&uot;We’re going to continue&uot; with the project,&uot; she said. &uot;Besides, the walls are in good shape.&uot;

Despite some cracks in the brick walls, that’s the final diagnosis of engineer Ashton Avegno, who toured the building with representatives of the foundation and contractor Edgin Construction.

Avegno and the firm for which he works, JTA Structural Engineers of New Orleans, have worked on historical buildings in Natchez since the 1970s, Mimi Miller said.

Those projects have included the antebellum house Arlington, which partially burned last year.

Work on the Ritz’s roof and the restoration of the front faSade should begin in May and be completed by the end of the year, said foundation Executive Director Ron Miller.

While in town, Avegno also deemed the Institute Building, in which the foundation itself is housed, structurally sound enough to make some improvements, including changes to make the building more accessible to the disabled.

That work is being done with a $160,000 grant from the Department of Archives and History.