Coronado reshaping image from aging theater to bustling performing-arts center

Sarah Roberts

See a gallery of historical photos of the Coronado Theatre

In March, the Glenn Miller Orchestra played big band classics for a crowd of predominantly senior citizens at the Coronado Performing Arts Center.

Fast-forward to December, when hundreds of rowdy concertgoers packed the Coronado to see punk band The Misfits.

Neither show was exactly the upscale, reserved atmosphere to which the ornate theater had become accustomed, but they were good, if extreme, examples of the Coronado’s ongoing metamorphosis.

Since July 2005, when the city of Rockford commissioned and approved a 10-year plan for the Coronado, the regal former movie palace has worked to transform itself into a performing arts center, an independent entity with programming as diverse as the community it serves.

Michael Goldberg, who on Tuesday celebrates his one-year anniversary as CPAC’s executive director, walked into the Coronado on his first official day on the job and was greeted by a group of African-American community members at the theater for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration. Goldberg was surprised to learn it was the first time the event had been held at the Coronado, and he vowed it wouldn’t be the last.

“That instance was emblematic of our desire and intention to make the Coronado everybody’s theater,” Goldberg said. “We don’t have just one audience; we have many different audiences.”

Coming into its own

In the past year-and-a-half, the Coronado has stepped out from the umbrella of Centre Events, the agency that oversees the MetroCentre and Davis Park, and established its own board of directors and staff. After assisting the new Coronado staff with booking and ticketing for the center’s first season, Centre Events officially turned over operations in June 2006 in a smooth transition, Centre Events General Manager Corey Pearson said.

The move not only allowed the Coronado to break away from a sports-and-concert-dominated arena-style management, but allowed Centre Events to focus on the massive project of renovating the MetroCentre and revamping the city’s hockey team.

“If this hadn’t taken place, this last year with the construction and the hockey team acquisition, I don’t know how my staff and I physically could have taken on all the things we did,” Pearson said. “It’s given each of us a great opportunity to focus on what we do, and I think the community is better for it, that there’s a staff for the Coronado and a staff for the MetroCentre.”

Keeping busy

The center is halfway through its 10-show first season, which so far has featured such varied performances as The Misfits and Arlo Guthrie, as well as continued performances by Coronado staples Rockford Dance Company, Rockford Symphony Orchestra, and the Broadway at the Coronado theater series.

The Coronado also is experimenting with new formats, such as a collaboration with Charlotte’s Web in February, when the theater will switch its stage to a cabaretlike setting for a more intimate performance.

Upcoming shows such as “Arthur Live,” Loretta Lynn and a Tyler Perry play reflect the Coronado’s effort to book acts that are appealing to families and a new swath of patrons.

“There’s a segment of our community that has probably looked for years at the Coronado and said, ‘That’s not my space because it’s not where the things I care about happen,’” Goldberg said. “We’re in the process of turning that around. We’re making the place more accessible for different kinds of audiences one event at a time.”

Goldberg won’t have hard numbers on attendance or revenue until the end of the theater’s fiscal year in July, he said, to see how this revamped season compares with previous years. Anecdotally, the number of people passing through the center’s doors is up, he said. And where the Coronado was previously open 80 to 85 days a year, it is now open well over 100, Goldberg said.

Goldberg attributes much of that to the fact that the Coronado now has its own staff for the box office six days a week and is devoted specifically to keeping the center open and inviting to people who pass through downtown.

He would like to see the theater open about 150 days within the next few years — not all for big-name productions, but just to have the doors open and activity within the theater — a goal that is easily attainable, he said.

As part of that process, the Coronado intends to host monthly after-work gatherings in its lobby. The first, scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. Feb. 13, is a collaboration among the Coronado, River District Association, Rockford Area Arts Council and Next Rockford.

The “Coronado After Work” event is a strictly social gathering, Goldberg said, featuring local musicians, drinks and hors d’oeuvres. The event will be a natural draw to people who work downtown, but is open to anyone.

“We want the theater to be a gathering place for all the community,” Goldberg said.

Bridget Fraser, executive director of the neighboring Mendelsohn Performing Arts Center, said the increased activity at the Coronado is positive for downtown.

Mendelsohn’s artistic niche is specific enough — intimate chamber music and solo performances — that competition with the Coronado isn’t an issue, she said.

“There’s so much more going on at the Coronado than there was a year ago,” Fraser said. “The synergy that’s created by the extra performances there can do nothing but help all of us in the cultural corridor.”

What’s next

The Coronado still has plenty to do as it chips away at its 10-year plan. The plan contains 15 goals, Goldberg said, some of which — such as establishing the Coronado as its own entity with its own staff — already have been accomplished.

Others, such as support from the city, fundraising and programming, will take center stage this year.

Over the next six months, Coronado staff will work with the city to revisit the city’s involvement in the center’s finances and operations, Goldberg said. The city’s role needs to be updated, he said, now that the Coronado is up and running with its own management.

Friends of the Coronado, the group that raised $11.5 million for the theater’s grand remodeling project in 2001, will take a larger role in the new version of the Coronado this year. The group has rewritten its mission statement to become the development arm for CPAC, responsible for fundraising campaigns and generating donations for the center. CPAC can cover two-thirds of its annual operating expenses with income it earns from ticket sales, rental fees and concessions, Goldberg said. The other one-third comes from sponsors and donors.

Lastly, 2008 will see continued program evolution, Goldberg said, as the center carves out a more diverse niche in the community. CPAC’s second season should be shored up by mid-February. Goldberg confirmed that singer/guitarist Doc Watson will perform, as well as The Capitol Steps, the Washington-based troupe of Congressional staffers turned political satirists, who will perform a few weeks before the November presidential election.

“We’re making significant headway,” Goldberg said of the Coronado’s transformation. “We’re about 20 percent into our (10-year) plan, and now we really need to build up our financial underpinnings this year. Gradually, we’re animating downtown more.

We’re definitely part of a larger process, which is to revitalize the center of our community.”

Staff writer Sarah Roberts can be reached at 815-987-1352 or

Notable dates in the Coronado's history

1927: The Coronado opens.

1970: The Coronado is sold to Kerasotes Corp.

1979: The Coronado is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

1980: The Coronado is entered onto the State of Illinois Register of Historic Sites and listed as a historic landmark of the city of Rockford.

1984: The theater closes to movie business.

1997: The Kerasotes Theatre Organization donates the Coronado Theatre to the city of Rockford.

1998: The Friends of the Coronado is formed to raise $18.5 million to renovate and restore the historic movie palace.

January 2001: The Coronado Theatre reopens with a black-tie gala, concerts and community open houses.

Fall 2002: The Coronado celebrates its 75th anniversary with a gala event.

July 2005: The city of Rockford commissions and approves a 10-year plan to transform the Coronado into a performing arts center.

January 2006: The Coronado Performing Arts Center board of directors is appointed by Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey.

January 2007: Michael Goldberg becomes CPAC’s executive director.

July 1, 2007: The Coronado Performing Arts Center’s box office opens under the management of CPAC staff with a new ticketing system.

Source: Coronado Performing Arts Center

Upcoming events

January and February events at the Coronado. For tickets or more information, call 815-968-0595 or go to

* Tour the Coronado: The Land of Lincoln Theatre Organ Society offers tours 7 p.m. Jan. 15, Feb. 19, March 11, April 8 and May 20. Call ahead to confirm your attendance: 815-968-2722, ext. 17. Reservations required for group tours. $7 a person; $5 a person for group tours of 20 or more.

* Nathan Gunn: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 18; $40, $15 for full-time students with ID

* Martin Luther King Jr. citywide celebration: noon Jan. 21. Free and open to the public.

* “Brian Regan in Concert: A Comedy Central Live Event”: 8 p.m. Jan. 25; $35.50

* “Arthur Live: Arthur Tricks the Tooth Fairy”: 7 p.m. Feb. 5; $20 to $28

* “Lord of the Dance”: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7; $50.50, $40.50, $30.50; part of Broadway at the Coronado

* Rockford Symphony Orchestra: Olga Kern plays Rachmaninov: 7 p.m. Feb. 9; call for ticket information

* New Orleans Jazz Orchestra: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 20; call for ticket information

* The Irish Rovers: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 27; $25, $28

* “Rain, The Beatles Experience”: 8 p.m. Feb. 29; $36.50, $46.50