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Karamu House using $1M grant to make itself a 'destination' spot

The beloved African American venue will upgrade its arena theater, add a healthy option bistro, and build its own television studio for virtual performances.

CLEVELAND — The stage is set for Karamu House to finish expanding its campus, thanks to a $1-million grant.

Karamu has been renovating in phases for several years, and a new Bank of America investment will mean the completion of the third and final phase of the work. 

"It allows us to move forward throughout the balance of this summer to prepare to begin the groundbreaking of phase three of this renovation," Tony Sias, President & CEO of Karamu House, told 3News.

The theater has been in a state of renovation since 2017, as part of the Karamu Rising Capital Campaign. The campaign supports renovations of the theater, with a goal of raising $3.5 million for Karamu.

The new grant will be used to complete the third phase of the full-scale campus renovation campaign, including upgrading a black-box space that will now be called the Bank of America Arena Theatre.

"The renovation of the arena theater means we can get young and old people to come in and understand and learn about technical theater," Sias said. "We'll be able to have our own little pseudo television studio, because we found success in the virtual world during the pandemic. We want to continue to reach people that are outside of our footprint of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio."

Renovations were supposed to be finished in January 2020, but COVID delayed plans and cancelled live performances. Sias says Karamu now expects to break ground on the phase three renovations by September.

"This investment will mean there’s a brand new streetscape on the corner of East 89th and Quincy that will have a beautiful pilon marquee promoting the programs and activities that are at Karamu House," he added. "There will be a beautiful new plaza out there."

The grant will not only spruce up Karamu’s campus, but also honor its commitment to bettering the community it serves.

"It’s about creating new access, healthy food options, because we'll be able to have a bistro right in the heart of Fairfax that'll have some healthy food options," Sias said. "When you come down East 89th and Quincy, you'll know that you've arrived at a destination."

If all goes well, the phase three renovations should be completed by the summer of 2022. In the meantime, Sias says Karamu will be gearing up to get back to its live theater performances, set to return this October.

Karamu House is the oldest African American producing theater in the United States. It has been a working, diverse gathering and performing space in Cleveland since 1915. "Karamu" is Swahili for a "place of joyful gathering."

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