Since moving to Corpus Christi in 1997, Cheryl Votzmeyer-Rios has had her sights set on the Ritz Theatre. When you start a conversation with her about the iconic structure, you’ll notice a twinkle in her eye and a fondness in her voice. Late last year, CCPATCH — the nonprofit organization which oversees the restoration of the historic theatre in the heart of Downtown — began a search for its first-ever executive director to lead the way. When Votzmeyer-Rios heard of the position, she jumped at the opportunity and secured the job. Never one to back down from a challenge and always looking for new ways to help her community, she’s charging into her new role full steam ahead.
What are a few of your goals as the new executive director, and what will it take to achieve them?
CVR: My first month was all about learning the history of the Ritz Theatre and understanding what steps had already been taken in the restoration process. A lot of behind-the-scenes work has been done, which is great. This is a big project and there is a lot to do. We have already met with an architect firm which specializes in the restoration of historic theaters. We are well on our way to understanding the scope of this project and what it will take financially for us to reach our goal of a rehabilitated, state-of-the-art and fully operational venue.
I hit the ground running when I stepped into my position. For 2023, I am already speaking with businesses who are wanting to back the project financially.
What is something people might not understand when it comes to revitalizing a historic structure?
CVR: The Ritz Theatre is well on its way to being designated not only as a state historical site, but also a national historic site. I would consider the Ritz a major historical landmark for Corpus Christi. We don’t have many historical buildings that have been rehabilitated or preserved. With historic designation, there are certain guidelines that must be followed when the restoration process starts moving forward. By being designated a historical site, [doors will open] for special funding which would not be accessible otherwise. The current Board of Directors has been working hard on getting this designation in place and being careful not to disturb what is currently there. We can’t just go in and “rip out” things that we think should go; there is process to all the action in the restoration process.
What would a fully operational Ritz Theatre mean for the city?
CVR: The vision is to bring the Ritz Theatre back to her glory. After really reviewing the photographs and seeing what the building looked like originally, I believe we can restore her with the original aesthetic, but as a state-of-the-art venue. The plan is to have film, live concerts, conferences, speaker series, comedy acts and so much more. I will create programming specifically built around arts education for all ages, and this will include theatre and music. I also plan to create an outreach program so we can go into our communities and take the arts to the underserved areas of Corpus Christi. Also, I would like to create ways to bring individuals to the theatre who have never had the theatre experience. The possibilities are endless — and there is no reason why The Ritz Theatre can’t be utilized seven days a week!
In 2022, CCPATCH entered into an agreement with the Texas Historical Commission to accept a grant worth $230,000, making this the largest grant the Ritz will receive in its history so far. How will those funds be used in these efforts?
CVR: We are so excited about the opportunity of the Texas Historical Commission awarding us this matching grant. These funds are specifically being used toward damage caused by Hurricane Harvey, so we are working on sealing and weatherproofing the building, and once this is complete, we will move forward with much more. The community will see activity happening at the Ritz Theatre and this is very exciting.
How will additional funding be raised?
CVR: We not only have access to special funding for this kind of project, but we have industry leaders poised and ready to be part of the fundraising efforts to get this project completed. I have received phenomenal feedback from our community. Our community wants to be a part of this project so I am building our volunteer “bank” and will be planning ways for our community to be part of the restoration process.
How can the community help?
CVR: This year is going to be a busy year with fundraising, but thankfully our downtown neighbors are offering their sites to allow us to hold programming such as the Corpus Christi Songwriters Festival (Feb. 18-19), the monthly Songwriters in the Round Series and another event currently in the works. We do need volunteers and I have had people inquire how they can help in this capacity. We also are taking donations to help in the rehabilitation of The Ritz. Imagine if every person in Nueces County gave one dollar; we would have raised close to $400,000 just like that. Imagine if they gave $2? Imagine if they gave $3? This theatre will be not only for Corpus Christi, but also the surrounding areas.
In your own words, why is it so important to revitalize the Ritz Theatre?
CVR: I believe history should be kept alive. I don’t believe in tearing down to build something new unless the building is so far gone it can’t be brought back to life. I believe every historical building has a story to tell and that we can make even more stories by revitalizing the Ritz Theatre. I have had so many people, too many to count, send me messages or strike up conversations about their experiences at the Ritz. My father-in-law recounted his experience in 1964 when he went to see Cat Ballou with Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin. I have had others talk about concerts they saw in the ’80s. It’s exciting to hear people reminisce about their experiences here. I, we at CCPATCH, want this to continue. We have a passion for making this happen. Our [community] deserves to have a place to visit that is historic and has a story and brings pride to the city. The Ritz Theatre, when complete, will essentially be for the people.
In your ideal world, what does the Ritz Theatre look like in five years? What about in 10 years?
CVR: I believe we will be up and running with the restoration complete, definitely, by five years. In 10 years, people will be talking about the restoration of the Ritz Theatre and how exciting it was to watch it happen and come back to life. I believe we will have a red-carpet affair on opening night. I believe we will be a venue in demand, featuring not only local performances, but entertainers from all over the country. The Ritz Theatre is going to be a shining star in Corpus Christi and will be a topic of conversation not only throughout the state of Texas, but nationwide. Think big! We are taking Corpus Christi to another level.