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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