The renovations of the historic Wilma Theatre are on track for its grand reopening.

"On the main, everything is up to speed and on schedule," said Nick Checota, who owns the venue with his wife Robin.

When fans show up Tuesday, Oct. 5, for a sold-out My Morning Jacket show, they'll find a familiar but vastly refurbished space with better sound and an improved interior.

Last week, the new sound equipment arrived, including an L-Acoustics K2 line-array speaker system, which will hang on both sides of the stage.

Checota said there are only three or four venues with a capacity of 2,000 or less around the U.S. with that caliber of sound system, according to L-Acoustics and his own research. Those include the 930 Club in Washington, D.C.

That particular rig is known for "really clean, beautiful delicate sound," he said.

In addition to the speakers, they've been treating the venue for its acoustics, installing absorption panels and diffusers that should help remove some of the "boomy" sound.

The new line arrays also mean the bulky speakers on the sides of the stage are gone.


Once the venue reopens, Checota foresees hosting 10 to 12 events a month, including concerts, live comedy and films.

The rest of the time, the space will be used for banquets, weddings or other private events.

They bought Posh Chocolat's kitchen adjacent to the venue and will use it as a catering kitchen.

The small movie theater at the front of the venue has been removed. The space is being turned into a lounge area that can be used for a VIP meet-and-greet space before or after events, or rented out for parties and the like.

Checota is set to purchase the liquor license from Harold's Club in Milltown. The final approval from the Department of Revenue is pending completion of construction next month.

The former movie theater's regular screenings of independent films won't be returning.

Checota plans on using the former movie theater to host the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and the Banff Mountain Film Festival, in addition to outdoors films by Warren Miller and fly-fishing movies.

Independent films will be screened on a "case-by-case" basis as the theater is available, he said. As an example, if a movie wins at the Sundance Film Festival, he might try to screen it for a week.

Checota has said the regular film screenings, which were typically three-week runs, lost money.


Inside the theater, much more work has taken place.

The pipe organ on the right side of the stage has been removed and put into storage. Checota said they've not yet found a buyer for it.

Aesthetically, that side of the stage looks the same, he said, but it's now being used as a production space.

The stage itself has been raised 21 inches to improve the view from the balcony, and they installed new hardwood floors and made acoustic improvements for the performers.

They upgraded the stage lighting, replacing the old hemp lines with a modern truss system with motors to raise and lower the lights.

The hemp ropes and bars will be used for stage banners and other soft goods.

The green room in the back has been "totally gutted," Checota said.

They've built a private suite with a dressing room, shower and bathroom, plus a larger room with a kitchenette. There are two offices as well, one for tour managers and another for local production staff.

Tour workers such as technicians and lighting directors have a large area to themselves, plus a bathroom and shower.

They paid for a new electrical system through the entire building, in addition to new heating, air conditioning and plumbing.

Artist Amanda Biebly of Missoula was hired to improve the murals on the ceiling, which were original to the theater's opening in 1921, according to Checota.

Some of the artwork, however, was "destroyed" and the plaster was falling off.

Audiences will find new seating in the main floors and balconies.

All the old red seats have been removed and the floors were replaced with hardwood.

In the balcony, they installed new fixed cedar chairs. On the main floor, they built three tiers to replace the old slanted floor.

The chairs there are removable, so the venue operators can choose between cabaret-style seating, seated rows or standing-room-only for concerts.

Removing the seats can increase the venue's capacity by 350 people for a total of 1,400.


The renovations started in June, and at any given time 30 to 35 workers from the Missoula and Seeley Lake areas are in the building.

The Checotas purchased the venue – and no other parts of the building – in March from Simba Development. The previous owners split the upper floors into condominiums. The remaining businesses downstairs, including Scotty's Table, were unaffected by the Checotas' purchase.

The couple also owns the Top Hat Lounge. Like the Wilma, they invested heavily in renovations, including a new stage and sound system, after they bought the venue in 2013.

The increased capacity drew larger, sold-out shows from acts like Jeff Tweedy, Lucinda Williams and Ryan Bingham.

Nick Checota hopes the remodel will make the venue a destination touring venue that draws higher-profile touring acts than the venue previously booked.

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