Show goes on as Houston Theater District recovering one year after Harvey

On Sunday, a little more than a year after Hurricane Harvey, the Gus S. Wortham Theater Center in downtown Houston will welcome patrons back for the Theater District’s Open House

It will be like welcoming family back home.

“Seeing people again for open house and first show, I think it will be good for everybody’s spirit,” said Sheila Turkiewicz, interim chief operating officer for Houston First Corporation. In September, the center will host its first show since the storm.

“Being back in business late September, 13 months later, is so important for all of us, and we all have this desire to get back to normalcy,” added Turkiewicz.

The torrential rainfall overwhelmed the Buffalo Bayou nearby and the water rushed into the building, causing around $100 million in damage. Turkiewicz said the hardest hit areas were not readily visible. The worst damage is in the basement, which houses mechanical equipment.

The underground parking garage also sustained approximately $70 million in damage.

Turkiewicz was at the center when the storm hit and five hours later, she made the decision to evacuate. She said that to this day, she still struggles to look at the images of the devastation.

“You know I really struggled with, ‘the captain doesn’t leave the ship,’ but the captain took her crew and left the ship,” Turkiewicz told FOX 26 News.

Across the street from Wortham Theater Center, a neighbor also felt the brunt of Harvey.

“The very first show I ever saw was here in the Alley when I was three years old," said Rachel Applegate, director of marketing and communications at the Alley Theater. "It was almost crushing to me to see this home theater of mine so devastated.”

The storm caused $22 million in damage to the Alley Theater, including the loss of 84,000 props. But, the Alley Theater clung to the old saying, “the show must go on.” Shows were moved and rescheduled but none were ever canceled.

“We always talk about being 'Alley Strong,' and I think that just proved it more than anything,” added Applegate.

“We were in the process of doing a plan for downtown at the time the storm hit,” recalled Bob Eury, executive director of the Downtown District.

Eury said Harvey revised that plan including looking more carefully at the White Oak and Buffalo bayous.

“White Oak Bayou could not move because Buffalo had all the water," described Eury, moving his hand across a map of downtown Houston. "So, the Buffalo water acts as a dam to the White Oak water. So, White oak water just basically just did this — it just came right across.”

Eury added that he hopes a plan to build a channel across the White Oak Bayou will move forward.

“Having the White Oak Bayou cut across, not have to go into Buffalo [Bayou], I think it can help the theater district facilities and the city facilities going forward,” said Eury.

While plans to mitigate flooding in downtown Houston take shape, leaders at the Wortham Theater Center and Alley Theater are making their plans too.

After Tropical Storm Allison, the Alley Theater and the other downtown tunnel entryways were equipped with submarine doors which held up during Harvey. However, the water came in through the air intake vents. Those have since been reinforced and street level entrances will be waterproofed.

At the Wortham Theater Center, construction is expected to continue until May 2019 and ways to mitigate future flooding are part of the rebuilding process.

After Allison, flood barriers were installed at the center. Now, leaders are working with a design team to make those barriers better and stronger than ever, just like the Wortham Theater Center comeback.

“We are close to the bayou," concluded Turkiewicz. "We’re not going to move the facility. We’re here to stay. The bayou is what it is so we have to learn to protect ourselves from it.”

The Theater District’s Open House is Sunday from 12 p.m. until 5 p.m. It is free and family-friendly.

The Wortham Theater Center’s first show is Sept. 26. Spanish opera singer Placido Domingo performs.