The Fort Worth Museum of Science and History plans to renovate its Omni theater rather than build a high-dollar flying theater.
The Omni Theater, built in 1983, was the first IMAX dome theater in the Southwest. The theater once showed Hollywood films along with educational content but has since stopped showing Hollywood films to reduce costs.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum planned to tear the Omni down to build a flying theater, named the V-Drome, similar to Disney’s Soarin’. The museum would additionally build a flat-screen theater for showing documentaries and lectures.
“V-Drome was about inspiration and, wow, making people really emotional with flying over something or through something and then later you would be left in the museum to learn more about it,” Chief Public Experience Officer Douglas Roberts said. “Now some technologies have become available that can have a lot of the V-Drome experience without the complexity of the motion seats.”
The project was canceled in favor of renovating the existing Omni. David Nolet, the Capital Campaign Chair for the museum’s Board of Trustees, said the board voted unanimously to renovate the Omni.
If You Go
WHAT: Fort Worth Museum of Science and History re-opening
WHEN: June 19 and 20 preview for members; June 25 for the public
HOURS: Friday – Saturday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.;
Sunday: 12 p.m. – 5 p.m.; Weekdays: closed for the Little Scholars Program
WHERE: 1600 Gendy St, Fort Worth, Texas 76107
COST: Non-members: seniors (65+) $14, adult (12-64) $16, juniors (3-11) $12, children (0-2) Free; Members: exhibits admission is free with noble planetarium now included with an exhibits ticket
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A large factor in the change of plans was the V-Drome capital campaign was short $18 million in funding, interim President Kippen de Alba Chu said. Renovating the current theater instead will save the museum $10 million, Roberts said.
The museum closed in March 2020 due to COVID-19. It reopened in August with limited hours but closed again due to a spike in cases in December. Winter storm Uri caused damage to the museum, causing it to remain closed longer than anticipated. While the Omni theater still will be closed for renovations, the museum plans to reopen to the public June 25.
The theater’s revenue and expenses since the 2014-15 fiscal year show a decline in net income. For the fiscal years of 2016-19, the theater operated at a loss. Its net income loss for those years totaled $306,667.
Some of those losses can be attributed to the cost of operating the aging Omni. Although IMAX switched from film to digital, the Omni theater’s system still uses film. To print IMAX film costs the theater about $20,000 per film. The maintenance contract for the system costs roughly $80,000 a year and the system requires two to three people to operate.
“We had to sell a ton of tickets to get that back before we start seeing the profit,” Roberts said.
The museum is considering switching to the new IMAX digital system to cut the printing cost. The digital system requires one person to operate and is more energy-efficient, lowering maintenance costs.
Another option is installing a planetarium LED dome, technology that can show high-contrast and deep saturation images with true black. Older LCD monitors are incapable of producing “true black.” These screens also have longer lifetimes.
Nolet thinks the museum is very interested in the LED option’s ability to provide a quality planetarium experience.
“It would address the fact we have an aging planetarium that’s much smaller,” Nolet said. “You would have the quality of delivery and, frankly, a pretty low cost delivery once it’s installed because it’s just LED lighting and very easy to utilize.”
The Omni theater would be the first in the country to employ this LED Dome technology, Roberts said.
“If we’re the first to implement it, it’ll still have that wow factor for Fort Worth,” Roberts said. “That can be kind of a leadership position for us.”
A new IMAX projection system would be three times cheaper than the LED dome, Roberts said. After the renovations, the museum would be able to create its own content for the theater, reducing the cost of purchasing films.
“I think this will allow us to do much more on the education side than that single ride experience we originally were set out on,” Nolet said.
The Omni will undergo other renovations as well, such as increasing the seating capacity and making the theater less steep.
The museum staff will continue investigating its visual presentation options during the next several months and present its findings to the museum’s board. The museum is in talks with funders about the possibilities and renovations could finish in late 2022 or early 2023, Roberts said.
“When I talked to funders about the V-Drome, the question that came up often was, ‘So what are you doing about the Omni?’” Roberts said. “They really cared about it, and what we’re talking about now is making the Omni the shiny thing it was 40 years ago.”
Brooke Colombo is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by grants from the Amon G. Carter and Sid W. Richardson foundations. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.