Friday, December 27, 2002

Old theaters renovated to spruce up downtowns

Many hope restored buildings will revitalize areas

The Associated Press

GLASGOW, Ky. - The renovation of an aging but exquisite movie theater in Glasgow is just one of many going on in Kentucky, as cities look to lure people back to Main Street.

"Practically everyone who grew up here has memories of this place," Rhonda Trautman, director of the Renaissance Main Street program for Glasgow, said of The Plaza theater. The city bought it for $200,000 last year from a Barren County family and is working on a major renovation.

"We see this as a major hook that will help pull in other downtown projects," said Ms. Trautman. "... It's just something that the community has almost demanded."

In at least a dozen small Kentucky cities, preservationists, downtown developers and local officials are joining forces to renovate historic downtown theaters.

"They're an essential part of the mix in terms of getting people to come down to that area and stay in that area," said Terrance Demas, executive director of the League of Historic American Theatres.

But in Kentucky, renovation projects on such buildings are in various stages of completion in Ashland, Benham, Bowling Green, Cumberland, Elizabethtown, Frankfort, Harrodsburg, Hopkinsville, Maysville, Springfield and Winchester, in addition to Glasgow.

Years ago, the Kentucky Heritage Council compiled a list of 51 historic theaters still standing in the state. But many of them have been demolished since then, said Scot Walters, a historic preservationist for the council.

In Glasgow, the Plaza building - with its separate entrances from the days of segregation - survived, although it needs a new roof, new plumbing, a stage expansion, extensive mold removal, rebuilt seats, rewiring and a climate control system. Including the purchase price, the renovation project will cost about $1.8 million and will take about five years to complete.

Glasgow Mayor Charles Honeycutt said the renovation could have an impact on the owners of other downtown buildings, encouraging them to make improvements.

"When we get it really fixed up as a showplace, I think that's a definite encouragement for others to take pride in their buildings," he said.

Roger Stapleton, state coordinator for the Kentucky Main Street program, said renovations of historic theaters are "a critical component" of downtown revitalization projects.

"It's not the sole turnaround component for the downtown," he said. "Obviously the downtown is no longer going to be the retail center it was in the '50s and '60s, but there has to be a good mix providing for a 24-hour life cycle."

The old theaters create a natural anchor, said Mr. Demas.

"For many communities the theater was where they all got together on a Friday or Saturday night."

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