Visitors to the Kimmel Center have long oohed over the curvy cello-shaped interior of Verizon Hall and aahed beneath the soaring glass vault. But at least one aspect of the arts complex has irked some patrons: the lack of escalators.

“Ever since the day I walked in the door people have complained,” Kimmel president and CEO Anne Ewers said recently. The deficit is now being corrected.

Coming soon to the Kimmel is a two-flight escalator stretched in midair on the south side of Verizon Hall. Arriving patrons will step onto the escalator near the bar on that side of the plaza and get off outside doors to Verizon Hall on the first tier. Those wishing to continue on to the second tier can turn at the top of the escalator and take a second one.

The Kimmel plans to operate them both as up-escalators before performances and down-escalators as crowds are letting out.

The project will cost $3.8 million, of which $2.7 is already raised, says Ewers. A “large chunk” of the escalator project is being covered by one 90-year-old patron, a woman who would like to remain anonymous, said Ewers.

Construction has just begun, with completion anticipated by the end of November.

Kimmel President and CEO Anne Ewers, standing where the new escalators will be in the Kimmel Center lobby.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Kimmel President and CEO Anne Ewers, standing where the new escalators will be in the Kimmel Center lobby.

Putting new hardware into that side of the plaza will no doubt diminish the airy nature of the space, but Kimmel leaders feel the escalators — which augment just a few small elevators — have been long needed.

“It’s a big project, but I think it's really well planned out and designed, and I feel like it will look like it always belonged,” says the Kimmel's Ross S. Richards, senior vice president of facilities and operations. The Kimmel will stay open for the duration of construction.

Changes past, present, and future

Philadelphia’s answer to Lincoln Center, the Kimmel has undergone a series of changes that started almost immediately after opening day in December 2001. Some were acoustical, such as a series of adjustments in Verizon Hall. Some things still lie in the future, like a master plan that aims to bring more people and activities into the space between and around Verizon Hall and the Perelman Theater that often sits cold and quiet around nonperformance times.

This summer’s renovations are more practical. In addition to the new escalators, three bathrooms are being added to the gathering space atop the Perelman Theater — an amenity much missed by guests at weddings and other events for which the Kimmel rents out that space.

The Hamilton Garden, as it is called (the trees went away years ago) has an acoustic barrier to keep sound from seeping out, so no plumbing noises should mingle with sounds of Schubert or Lutoslawski happening in the Perelman below. But the new-bathroom project, which carries a $460,000 price tag, will block the view out into the city in that southeast corner of the great glass dome that caps the arts center.

The two new escalators under the dome of the Kimmel Center are shown in a rendering.
The two new escalators under the dome of the Kimmel Center are shown in a rendering.

Some interior work is planned. Inside the Perelman, two narrow routes of access to the plaza-level (lower-level) seats are being widened. Until now, it was not unusual at intermission to see some verbose patron holding forth on the steps while blocking the way for dozens of others.

The slim width met code requirements, said Richards, but now the two paths will be made wider — so one person can enter and another exit at the same time.

One of the big users of the Perelman, the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, is pleased to see the change.

“We have been concerned by the narrow entranceways into this section,” says PCMS artistic director Miles Cohen. The source of the worry, he says, has been patron safety in the event of an emergency. “The upcoming renovation is a step in the right direction as we see it.”

In addition to these changes, the seat replacement project that started last year in the Academy of Music, which is managed by the Kimmel Center, will be finished over the summer. By Labor Day, the Academy will have new seats throughout. The entire seating project came to $3.6 million.

As for the plaza renovation, that will have to wait.

“It’s hard to say when” it could happen, says Ewers. “We have to see what the price tag is, you have to figure out the vision, then the timeline, and whether you phase it in.”

And, back to the practical: “And whether you put bathrooms on the plaza level.”

The vast majority of the Kimmel’s bathrooms are one level up or down from ground level, and patrons have noticed.

Says Ewers: “There is a hue and cry for bathrooms on the plaza.”