SANTA ROSA -- Wells Fargo Center for the Arts today announced plans for a four-part, $10 million upgrade project to improve patron and artist experience, increase accessibility and provide greater flexibility at the 31-year-old center.

The first phase of the project is set to begin in mid-May and will include a $2.8 million renovation of the Ruth Finley Person Theater, according to an announcement by the board of directors for the nonprofit Luther Burbank Memorial Foundation, which owns the facility. The project is expected to be completed by mid-August for the start of the center's 2013--2014 season.

"We're looking ahead with great excitement to the next 30 years," Sherry Swayne, board chairwoman, said in a statement. The project is the result of ongoing strategic plans begun in 2007 by the Luther Burbank Memorial Foundation Board, she said. "As our programming and audiences have grown over the past 31 years, this renovation is the next logical step in our evolution."

During the first phase of construction, the 1,600-seat theater will closed for performances. But scheduled performances between mid-May and mid-August will take place elsewhere within the 140,000-square-foot Wells Fargo Center, officials said.

The project, known as "Bridge to the Future," will help the center as it charts its course over the next several decades, according to Ms. Swayne.

The first phase of construction is made possible by donations from the Ernest L. and Ruth Finley Foundation, Lytton Rancheria--Lytton Band of Pomo Indians, Alan and Susan Seidenfield and an anonymous donor, officials said.

Berkeley-based ELS Architecture and Design will lead the renovation. It renovated the Lytton Rancheria Grand Lobby in 2010, and past theatrical projects include Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles, San Jose's California Theatre and Roda Theatre at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

Construction will be carried out by Windsor-based Shook & Waller Construction, Inc., which also worked on the 2010 lobby renovation.

Key improvements to be made this summer include removal of two piano storage barns on either side of the stage. They can currently obstruct as many as 120 seats from seeing a full view of performances. Also planned are eight additional feet of ceiling space above the stages and the revision of balcony soffits and railings, which will improve sight-lines for those seated in the balcony and improve sound quality.

Balcony seats will be refurbished. On the orchestra level, entirely new seats will be installed. In addition, many technical elements will be replaced, among them the installation of new speakers, processors and digital sound mixing boards. Stage and house lighting will also be upgraded.

Additionally, for the first time, the center will have loading doors backstage, which will eliminate the current practice of having to move equipment for all shows through the lobby and front of house. That makes it easier for artists while reducing wear-and-tear on the front of house.

The performance center was originally constructed as a home to the Christian Life Center in the 1970s, which resulted in "several idiosyncrasies not standard to a performing arts center," officials said.

The first stage of construction will also include significant work to increase accessibility for patrons with disabilities and reduced mobility, which will make the center safer. Changes to that end include a new entry door and wheelchair ramp from the lobby to a raised platform at the back of the theater, which will allow for increased Americans With Disabilities Act-approved seating. Additonal ADA seaing will be added elsewhere in the theater, a new assisted-listening device system will be installed and four ADA-compliant bathrooms will be added backstage.

“Overall, phase 1 of this project is going to result in an enhanced experience for all of our patrons and artists,” said Rick Nowlin, the center’s executive director.

Phase 2 calls for the installation of a lobby elevator and renovation of the second-level balcony and restrooms.

Phase 3 would focus on "enlivening" and expanding the center’s outdoor spaces, including creation of a sculpture walk between the center and the new Sutter Health medical complex next door.

The fourth and final phase of the project would focus on deferred maintenance to the nearly 40-year-old facility,  including a new HVAC system and roof for the building, replacing lobby windows and doors, washing and painting the building, and repaving the parking lot.

"Ultimately, with the fruition of the 'Bridge to the Future' project, this organization will have greater capacity to meet the growing and changing needs of our region in the years ahead," Mr. Nowlin said.