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Inside INB


There's something timeless about the cliff-sharp edges and bold asymmetry of the INB Performing Arts Center, referred to by most as just "The INB." Reflected in the placid current of the Spokane River, its pale walls and basalt-black glass evoke ancient eruptions as much as they evoke Expo '74, the event for which it was created. Squint your eyes, and you could even imagine it as a gift from the future.

"This is a 100-year building," says Spokane Facilities executive Kevin Twohig, sitting in the former opera house's sweeping lobby. Twohig's organization, which took over the center's management from the City of Spokane in 2003, also runs facilities like the Spokane Arena, which — unlike The INB, he says — requires constant repackaging, rejiggering, and optimizing to keep up with the latest trends in sports and entertainment promotions and concessions. Not this one.

The keys to the center's staying power?

The biggest is Broadway. Only The INB — with its space for 2,700 people, its Broadway-sized stage and backstage area, its green rooms, its dedicated team of riggers and stagehands — can pull off the scale and spectacle that touring Broadway shows have to offer, from the truckfuls of sets and costumery being loaded in behind the stage to the massive chandelier getting strung above the stage for the next production of Phantom of the Opera. "As long as Broadway works, this building will work," says Twohig. "And that's not its only life, but that's what it does the majority of right now."

But Twohig points out another, subtler, more often overlooked factor. "One of the unique things about this building is that it's one of the few continental-style theaters," he says. "There's no center aisle. There's no cross aisles."

Why is that important?

"As someone who studies crowds, this building has the most uniform reaction of any I've ever been in. There's not an aisle separating you from the next person away from you. Everybody's right next to you. That tends to mean that if a comedian tells a funny joke, maybe more people get it. Or there's more of a shared experience," he explains. "I mean, I've been at concert events where one whole section wanted to stand, and the group next-door is kinda like, 'Enh, maybe.' But I was just here for Garrison Keillor and the audience reaction was incredible, and it was uniform across the board. It seemed like everybody had virtually the same experience."

Of course, it also helps that The INB can boast new seats, lights, safety systems, mechanical systems, and sound since the District took over. But that likely wouldn't have happened without the help of INB, whom the District first approached about being a naming rights sponsor 10 years ago. The pitch? The old center needed help if it was ever to reclaim its former glory.

"It really came to mind the first night we opened the building, as a district building," he says. "Four people went to sit in their seats and went straight to the ground."

But INB, says Twohig was all in. "The reason INB is and will be a favorite of mine is their commitment allowed our district to recommit to this building," he says. "So when INB came and said 'Yes, we will buy the naming rights, we will invest in this building,' it really freed me to go to my board and say, 'All right, let's get the project list going, let's figure out what we need to do, and let's get this done.'"

As Twohig and The INB relish the restoration of a building that was a centerpiece during Spokane's last turn in the international spotlight, they're also looking to the future (planning improvements to the building's handicap access, among other upgrades).

"This is the kind of building that you could literally be using 100 years from now."