PMH unveils elevator on Sunday

WARREN — Packard Music Hall will unveil its new elevator and other improvements before Sunday’s concert by the W.D. Packard Band.

The changes will make the building, which opened in 1955, compliant with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) for the first time and provide other amenities.

Jim Fogarty, president of the W.D. Packard Foundation, said, “We’re extremely happy and excited for the public to be able to use it and check it out … One of the first things I want to do is bring my grandmother down and let her see the top row again.”

The $700,000 project was paid for through a $200,000 grant secured in 2016 from the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission along with a $500,000 grant from the ACI Senior Development Corp., an independent foundation established by the families of Warren natives Robert and Roger Ailes. A couple bills are outstanding, but Fogarty said the project should be completed slightly under budget.

“This wouldn’t have happened without that (grant),” Fogarty said.

On the wall near the elevator is a plaque that reads, “This elevator is a gift to Warren, Ohio from its native sons Robert and Roger Ailes in loving memory of their maternal grandmother, Josephine Jackson-Cunningham, who made Warren her home from 1916 until her death in 1977.”

Roger Ailes’ widow, Elizabeth, and his son, Zachary, will attend Sunday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

In addition to the 3,500-pound-capacity elevator, the hall added ADA-compliant front doors and wheelchair seating in the balcony. The size of the women’s bathroom on the mezzanine level doubled from four to eight stalls, and two family bathrooms were added on the first floor across from the elevator.

“If you had someone in a wheelchair with an aid of the opposite sex, there was no place for them to go,” said Jim Bugos, general manager of the hall. “There was no good place to privately change a kid’s diaper.”

It won’t just be the elderly and the handicapped who will benefit from the changes. Bugos knows exactly how many steps he has to climb to get from the main floor to the balcony of Packard Music Hall — 42.

“It’s literally carrying one 5-gallon bucket at a time to get ice up there (to the concession stand),” he said.

The elevator will make it easier to sell concessions and merchandise in the balcony or to haul spotlights and other equipment up there, he said.

“The ideas are limitless,” Bugos said. “It’s just a matter of what needs to be up there for any show.”

Having the upper level handicapped accessible also makes the building more desirable to promoters, he said. In the past, a show promoter might have been hesitant to bring an event there that appealed to an older audience if the promoter feared those customers wouldn’t be able to use the balcony seating.

“We were limited before and now we’re not,” Bugos said.