There are big dreams to restore Veterans Memorial Coliseum (also known as Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Coliseum) as a modern venue for stage performances and other events.
As yet, however, the dollars required to carry out such a vision aren’t there.
Erected in 1916, the stone building with stoic Roman and Gothic architecture is in disrepair. County-owned and leased to the Veterans Council, the Coliseum will shut down in early 2024 as about $6 million in American Rescue Plan-funded heating and air, electrical, and plumbing repairs get underway. A larger overhaul will take $20-$25 million more.
The new year “will be used to raise awareness and hope we can find donors to help generate funding,” says Jill Hahn, president of the Vanderburgh County Council.
A venue that generations ago hosted entertainers such as Ray Charles and Katharine Hepburn has seen its usage dwindle and its condition deteriorate.
The Coliseum’s recent events calendar has included bingo fundraisers as well as roller derby and World Wrestling Alliance matches.
Evansville Civic Theatre has spoken about using the Coliseum once its renovations are completed. Renderings from architectural firm Hafer depict what the venue might look like as an intimate performance setting.
Hahn says a revamped Coliseum could be used for multiple purposes while remaining a dignified tribute to service; it was built to honor veterans of the Civil War and Spanish-American War. Rooms in the building store military themes and mementos.
The fundraising task is large, but officials are optimistic about the restoration.
“The county has been working with the various veteran organizations and others to help in planning future activities for fundraising events,” Hahn says. “Our hope is to bring this magnificent structure back its original glory, with modern technology, and making it more useful for events both large and small.”
Dave Noble, a U.S. Air Force veteran of Vietnam and a Veterans Council board member, says the community should value what the Coliseum represents, because “this place is more than just a big building.”