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.]

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