Dowdle Construction Group has announced that it has finished converting the old Woolworth building on Fifth Avenue downtown into an approximately 400-seat theater and cocktail lounge, designed by Barry Brechak. Now called the Woolworth Theatre, it is owned by local entrepreneur and investor Rob Bellenfant and country music singer Chuck Wicks. The theater is located on 223 Rep John Lewis Way.

“This project has been over three years in the making. We are excited to open with an original theatrical concept show as well as a state-of-the-art theatre, lounge and event space,” said Wicks. “We love this city and want to expand all it has to offer while providing a different type of experience.”

Image via National Archives

The building was originally built in 1890 and was home to several businesses before its most well-known tenant opened in 1913: the Woolworth’s five and dime store. The popular lunch counter opened within the store in 1925. In the 1960s, the “whites-only” lunch counter became a hotbed for Civil Rights sit-ins organized by students from nearby Historically Black Colleges – the most notable being future U.S. Congressman John Lewis. For these reasons, Fifth Avenue North was renamed Rep. John Lewis Way and the building is on the historic registry as part of the Fifth Avenue Historic District.

The retail store closed in the 1990s and was later reopened as the Woolworth on 5th restaurant, which recently closed due to COVID-19 challenges. Now the building has been adapted for a completely new use.

“Our favorite types of projects are historical restoration and adaptative reuse, so we are thrilled we had the opportunity to work on this project,” said Dowdle Project Manager Marcelo Cortes. “We are proud to help preserveand revive this important piece of Nashville’s history for a whole new concept that stays true to what Music City is all about.”

The goal for the renovation of the 17,000-square-foot space was to preserve everything original to the Woolworth, while converting it into a unique entertainment space. In fact, the iconic ironwork along the mezzanine has been adopted as part of the theater’s official logo.

The first show to premiere at the new theater, which kicked off Sept. 30, is called “Shiners” and is billed as “Nashville’s first-of-its-kind show,” blending circus, Broadway and comedy elements. The cocktail lounge will be open before and after shows, and the space will also be available to rent for events.

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