The NorShor Theatre has long been a part of the arts scene in Duluth. Starting in 1910 as an Orpheum Theatre, the building was renovated in 1941 into the NorShor, a one-screen motion picture house. By the early 2000's, the building was in use as a strip club and maintenance had been deferred on several parts – the roof was covered with old carpet and tires, and glazed terracotta tile and brick were starting to deteriorate. The only restrooms in the theater were on an upper floor and inaccessible because there were no elevators. The City of Duluth acquired the property and teamed up with Sherman Associates, Inc. and the Duluth Playhouse to rehabilitate the building into a first class, community-based, contemporary regional arts center with full performing arts education and production facilities.
The rehabilitation repainted the brick and restored the terracotta on the exterior. New roofs were installed.
Art Moderne plaster ornamentation in the lobbies and auditorium were preserved and missing ornamentation was restored.
The balcony, which had been sealed off from the auditorium, was reopened, bringing the space back to its original volume.
The new elevators and amenities, like the wine bar, were sensitively put into the historic spaces.
The project required a complicated $30.5 million package that utilized $7 million in state funding and $15 million in historic rehabilitation and other tax credits. Sherman Associates contributed $2.5 million and the Duluth Playhouse also raised funds for the project. The unique private, nonprofit, and public partnership between Sherman Associates Development LLC, the Duluth Playhouse, and the City of Duluth has transformed the building into a 700-seat main stage theatre, a wine bar, and music and theatre classrooms. It includes the Lights On Duluth – a visitor service center serving the Performing Arts community in Duluth. NorShor is also now fully handicap-accessible with a skywalk connection.
Bringing the NorShor Theatre back to life has helped revitalize the Downtown East neighborhood in Duluth. It continues a vision created in a 2005 design, charrette, conducted by the University of Miami School of Architecture. With local residents, businesses, community leaders, and city staff, a vision and plan were developed for Downtown East. Rehabilitating the NorShor Theatre was a key component to this plan. The project has brought new employment opportunities and visitors, and has filled vacant retail spaces. Public safety has been enhanced and the project has catalyzed other community and economic development opportunities. Most importantly, the development supports and revitalizes the arts in downtown Duluth. The success of this project can also be seen through the incredible amount of attention received from local and national press, community leaders, and Duluth residents, old and new.