The Strand Returns to Detroit Metro Market

900-seater to reopen with Swan Lake, Five Irish Tenors

  • by Gary Graff
  • Published: January 10, 2017

Flagstar Strand Theatre for the Performing Arts, Pontiac, Mich., opens Jan. 23 after a $20-milion renovation.

After two dormant decades, the Strand Theatre in the Detroit suburb of Pontiac has been given more than a few new coats of paint and a $20-million overhaul and is ready to open its doors.

Now known as the Flagstar Strand Theatre for the Performing Arts, the 900-seat venue opens for business Jan. 23 with a performance of "Swan Lake" by the Russian National Ballet Theatre, company of 50. It's one of an eclectic list of nine shows, including one already for 2018, that ranges from jazz to world music, dance and theater; and Strand CEO Bill Lee said diversity is the venue's mission statement and guiding mantra.

"There isn't another place like this in the metro area," said Lee, pointing out there is a population of 2.3 million people living within 20 minutes of the Strand. "We're big enough we can still get the sexy, national touring artist. We're going to book an eclectic array of artists and create an experience of seeing a show so that people will say, 'It's at the Strand? Let's go.'"

strandinterior600.jpg

The interior of the 900-seat historic Flagstar Strand Theatre.

The Strand was built during 1921 and hosted mostly theatrical productions, along with some music, during its previous history. It closed during the mid-90s after serving primarily as the home for "The Brady Bunch" live touring production. Detroit area developers Brent and Kyle Westberg of West Construction bought the building during 2012.

The Strand's initial slate includes: the Five Irish Tenors, Feb. 2; Gerald Albright, Jonathan Butler and Marion Meadows, March 4; David Sanborn and Chante Moore, April 1; "American Idol" champ Phillip Phillips in a benefit for the Community Housing Network, April 27; Festival of South African Dance featuring the Gumboots and Panitsula, Sept. 27; Tango Buenos Aires, Oct. 8; and the Martial Artists and Acrobats of Tianjin, the People's Republic of China, Nov. 1, $35-$65.

Dublin Irish Dance has been signed for Feb. 1, 2018, and the Strand plans to work with Pontiac's public school district and nearby universities on student programming.

"We want to book everything — music, theater, comedy, whatever one can think of that's entertainment," said Lee, who's targeting more than 150 performances per year for the venue. "We want to make this an exciting performing arts center that's a real destination for people and a reason to come to Pontiac."

Lee has engaged other Detroit area concert promoters to buy into the Strand as well. Michael Tinik of Phase 3 Presents is booking jazz shows into the venue. Live Nation's Josh Newman is cautiously positive about the Strand's potential.

"There certainly are times when you can utilize a space like that," Newman noted. "There probably is a little bit of a void right where their sweet spot's going to be, both in terms of location and size. There are definitely some things we would look at putting in there."

Lee is also pushing to sell an "experience" as well as the performances. The Strand's lobby will feature rotating art exhibits, while two bars — one main level, one mezzanine with limited food offerings — will provide space for patrons to hang out before and after shows. Detroit's popular Slows Barbeque, which is handling concessions and catering for the entire theater, is opening a location in the building that will be accessible to the theater as well as from the street and will provide catering for the artists and crews.

A second-level screening room, meanwhile, will host matinees for senior citizens as well as other programs.

"We want people to come and stay," Lee explained. "We want to bring the social aspect back of going to a show. It always amazes me when you go to a larger arena and there's X amount of people there for the same thing, and no one talks to each other. At a size like this, we want to have a place where people will come early for something to eat or drink, and stick around after the show and not feel like they have to rush out to beat the crowd."

Part of the Strand's mission is also to serve "as a centerpiece for the rejuvenation of Downtown Pontiac," which was an entertainment hub as recently as the mid-90s but lost that stature during the past couple of decades — though the nearby Crofoot complex and the EDM club Elektricity remain busy. Lee is confident it won't take long to reacclimate an audience to the benefits of the area.

"I think when people come and see it, they'll get used to coming to the Strand," Lee said. "It's something we're confident will sell itself once we get people to come that first time."

Interviewed for this story: Bill Lee, (248) 890-4057; Josh Newman, (248) 697-3113

  • by Gary Graff
  • Published: January 10, 2017