Friday, April 11, 2003

Soo Theatre Project Purchases Historic Theatre

From The Sault Evening News, 04/11/03

Soo Theatre Project purchases historic theater

SAULT STE. MARIE -- After months of effort, the Soo Theatre Project, Inc. has purchased the historic Soo Theatre in downtown Sault Ste. Marie, a theatre board release announced.

The project, organized in 2002, acquired the theater for $85,000. Previously, unsuccessful attempts had been made to purchase the facility since its closure in 1998.

"We have been thrilled by the amount of support that we have received from the community," said Dianna George, president of the project's Board of Directors. According to George, many community members, civic organizations and even the Sault City Commission have voiced their support for the project.

Project members now face the lengthy task of renovation. Colleen Arbic, a member of the project's executive steering committee explained that the refurbishment will take place in phases. The initial phase will cover repairs to the roof, re-opening the storefronts and other immediate concerns that have developed.

"What comes next," Arbic said, "will depend on the amount of money that we raise and the in-kind services that are donated to the project."

Arbic estimates that the total cost of the renovation, based on a 2002 feasibility study, will be around $3 million. She also said that the "Bring Back the Lights" capital fund-raising campaign has the goal of raising the required funding through monetary donations and related grants.

The Soo Theatre complex, which includes the theater, four storefronts, eight upstairs apartments and an extensive basement, had been owned by the DePaul family of Sault Ste. Marie since the 1930s. The theater itself was completed in 1929 [see blogger's note below] and featured a full stage, orchestra pit, organ loft and extensive seating. It was used for a variety of theatrical performances including plays and silent movies, the release said.

The theater was renovated in the 1970s to convert it into a two-cinema movie theater. Sound screens were erected, a dividing wall put into place, the orchestra pit filled in and movie seating installed. The Soo Theater was the primary movie hall for much of the Eastern Upper Peninsula until Varsity Cinema opened in 1995.

Now that the Soo Theatre Project has secured the acquisition of the theater, project members hope to be able to renovate the facility in a manner pleasing to the community.

"We will try our best to maintain the integrity of a fine old structure in the middle of our downtown," Arbic said.

[Blogger's Note: Actually, construction of the Soo Theatre began on August 28, 1929 and the theatre opened on March 12, 1930.]

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Local Group Promises To Restore The Soo Theatre

From The Sault Evening News, 03/18/03

Local group promises to restore the Soo Theatre

By SCOTT BRAND/The Evening News

SAULT STE. MARIE -- Seemingly armed with momentum and a plan, members of the Soo Theatre Project, Inc. pitched their proposal to "Bring Back the Lights" at Monday's regular meeting of the Sault Ste. Marie City Commission.

"Too many times in the past there have been a lot of false starts," explained President Dianna George, pledging that this time things would be different as the group works to restore the old Soo Theatre.

Quoting the HyettPalma study of 2001, George indicated this structure will provide a key ingredient for the revitalization of downtown Sault Ste. Marie.

"It cannot be stated strongly enough that a first-class, high quality entertainment venue would be a tremendous downtown anchor that could draw not only residents living in the city, but residents from the entire Eastern Upper Peninsula and beyond -- as well as tourists," read George quoting the document. "Therefore, this is an excellent effort that should be aggressively pursued and that should receive the wholehearted support of the entire community and region."

Wholehearted support will require some deep pockets in this instance, with Colleen Arbic of the Executive Steering Committee figuring approximately $3 million would be needed to restore the building and an additional $1 million would be required to "secure its future."

"We are going to try to get the theatre up and operating within the next year or so," said Arbic, adding, "It may be a long ways down the road before we get it completed."

Arbic said there is already $42,000 pledged for the project and those involved with the project will soon be organizing a major fund-raising campaign.

A breakdown of the estimated cost includes $250,000 to purchase the property and make immediate repairs; more than $1.5 million for internal upgrades including utilities for Phase II; Phase III would be the most costly portion with a price tag exceeding $2.1 million to enhance the stage and house, replace seats and purchase stage equipment; and the final $1 million for an endowment to maintain the structure under Phase IV.

"We are going to bring back the lights to Sault Ste. Marie, hopefully," Arbic said in addressing the commission. "And we need your help."

Mayor Anthony Bosbous threw his support behind the effort.

"We feel this is a very important structure for the downtown," he said, adding that Portage Avenue has the Ojibway Hotel and Ashmun needs to have the theatre.

The commission unanimously passed a resolution indicating it would support, in theory at least, theatre restoration efforts through tax abatements, zoning variances and in-kind support. The commission also instructed the city administration to assist this organization in grant-writing and other endeavors related to this project.

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