Thursday, June 22, 2000

Theater finds friend - again - in restorer

Years after seeing movies there, she's saving the old building

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — As a child, Esther Johnson saved her quarters to take in movies each weekend at the Madison Theater in downtown Covington.

        Now, more than two decades after the theater marquee went dark for the last time, Mrs. Johnson and her husband, Charles, hope to restore the 88-year-old theater to its 1946 appearance and reopen it as a banquet hall and concert venue.

        The federal government just gave them a big boost.

        Mrs. Johnson said Madison Entertainment LLC recently was approved for a $1 million loan from the Small Business Administration, a key part of their $2.6 million financing package.

        “Without the SBA guarantee, the banks usually wouldn't make a loan on a project like this,” said Mrs. Johnson, president of Covington-based Classic Properties Inc.

        Provident Bank is lending $1 million, and the Johnsons have $400,000 of their own money invested. The city of Covington also has approved a $100,000 low-interest loan for the project, and city officials are expected to consider another $100,000 loan soon, Ms. Johnson said.

        “There is a possibility it will be on the June 30 Covington City Commission agenda, if we can get all the details worked out,” Covington City Manager Greg Jar vis said Wednesday.

        In 1989, Mrs. Johnson paid the city of Covington a dollar for the historic theater at 730-732 Madison Ave. Since then, her company has worked on other restoration projects in downtown Covington, including the conversion of the Parisian store on West Pike Street into law offices and the transformation of the Morwessel Drug Store into an interior designer's studio and apartments.

        In the past year, workers have leveled the theater's floors, renovated its terra cotta facade and begun restoring the marquee.

        The redevelopment of downtown Covington has escalated since the early 1990s to include such projects, as well as the planned conversion of the Spare Change building on Madison Avenue into Fabulous Furs' headquarters, Mr. Jarvis said.

        “In recent years, I think we've seen a lot of very positive adaptive reuses in the core of downtown,” he said.


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- Theater finds friend - again - in restorer
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