COLUMBIANA, Ohio – The owner of the Main Street Theater has shut down the venue for good, but a group has been formed with the goal of raising $ 1.5 million to purchase and renovate the building and then reopen it as a cultural and arts center community.
The Columbiana Cultural Collective was launched last month and is implementing a fundraising plan to buy the theater on the town circle from its owners, Don and Dawn Arthurs.
The Arthurs bought the 71-year-old movie theater in 2007 and spent around $ 1 million to restore it, reopening it in 2009. The old Columbiana movie theater was renamed Main Street Theater and became the home of Crown Theater Co It was also used for movies and concerts.
The 400-seat theater closed in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began. The Crown Theater monthly rent payments also ceased at this time.
Arthurs, who is a founding member of Crown Theater Co., informed the Crown Board of Trustees late last year that he could no longer afford to maintain the building as a theater and had intend to reuse it. He considered alternative uses, ranging from converting it into a bowling alley or storage units to renting it out as a showcase. But his first choice has always been that he remain a theater.
Arthurs grew up in the Columbiana area. In an interview when he first opened the theater, he spoke of seeing films there in his youth.
He would go on to become the founder of Turning Technologies, a digital technology company in Youngstown. Today, he owns / operates Arthurs Innovations LLC and founder of Back to Dust Studios.
“Dawn and I have been sustaining the performing arts in Columbiana for almost 15 years now with the help of amazing, hard-working volunteers,” Arthurs said in a statement. “With the shutdown of entertainment by COVID, it has forced us to make some tough decisions. We realized that to overcome the challenges that living with COVID presents to the entertainment world, the theater would be best served with a community-supported group with new ideas and ambition at the helm. ”
Erich Offenburg spearheads the Columbiana Cultural Collective’s efforts to buy the theater. He is Artistic Director of Crown Theater Co. and Executive Director of the Columbiana Area Chamber of Commerce.
He noted that the Collective is a 501 (c) (3) charity and is under the auspices of the Columbiana Tourism Bureau. To make a tax-deductible donation to the project, contact the office.
Offenburg said Arthurs – who is also the building manager – invested his money and his heart in the theater building. When Offenburg approached him months ago to see if Crown could re-sign a rental agreement despite his inability to put on shows, Arthurs said the expenses were piling up and it wouldn’t be enough.
“The utility bills alone are outrageous,” Offenburg said. “[Arthurs] said he wanted to keep a theater but couldn’t do it alone and wanted to pass the torch.
Offenburg worked with the Columbiana Progress Committee and City Manager Lance Willard to mount a campaign to buy the theater and a house behind that is part of the property, make improvements so that it complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act – including installing an elevator – and reopening it as an arts center with the Crown Theater as the primary tenant.
Columbiana has undergone a metamorphosis in the last five or 10 years, becoming a charming, pedestrianized town with a bustling downtown area that is home to antique shops, as well as the new Firestone Farms housing, golf and entertainment development. Other city attractions include the Das Dutch Village hotel, shops and a restaurant; Birdfish Brewing Co.; and the Firestone Park and Pool.
The village has 50 housing starts this year alone, Offenburg said.
A Columbiana hat feather came in 2019 when Reader’s Digest named the village The Nicest Place in America. Offenburg noted that the honor came from the Crown Theater and its inclusion of actors with intellectual disabilities.
Saving the theater and expanding its role in the booming city was mandatory, Offenburg said.
“It is an anchor point for the city center,” he said. “And there are so many people here with memories of this place. It is priceless.
Offenburg recalled a discussion he had with an actor in “Mary Poppins”, one of the last shows he directed at the theater. Offenburg asked the actor if he had any memories of “Mary Poppins”. The director replied that he saw the film version for the first time when he took [the woman who would become his wife] to see it on their first date – at the old Columbiana Cinema.
Offenburg’s attachment to the theater runs even deeper.
“The last ‘show’ on this stage was my wedding,” he said. Offenburg and his wife, Tricia, got married on the stage of the theater last summer.
“This is the oldest show in the history of the theater!” he said, referring to his marriage. Tricia Offenburg is the Executive Secretary of the Columbiana Tourism Bureau.
The $ 1.5 million the Columbiana Cultural Collective seeks to raise will cover the selling price of the property – $ 1.3 million – with $ 200,000 remaining for renovations. With the exception of ADA compliance work, the theater is in excellent condition.
Offenburg plans to operate the building as a community performing arts center. While Crown Theater would be the tenant of the house and maintain its offices in the building, it would also book dance, music, art and film. “We plan to have an event every weekend,” he said.
Plans call for turning an unused garage space into a small black box and rehearsal space. This would give Crown a place to rehearse its shows and free up the stage and auditorium for other performances, which could include touring artists.
“We’re also trying to get a liquor license,” Offenburg said.
Columbiana City Manager Lance Willard said the village understands the importance of retaining the theater and wants to see swift action to raise funds.
“We are blessed to have him,” Willard said. “We have been working on our downtown over the past few years to make it dynamic and we have done some original things. “
He cited the implementation of a Designated Outdoor Consumption Zone, or DORA, which allows alcohol consumption at festivals. Other additions included the bistro lights along Main Street, the closure of a downtown lane and its transformation into a pedestrian zone, and the arrival of food trucks.
“But the theater is an anchor and most cities aren’t as blessed as we are,” Willard continued. “The Arthurs have renovated him and he’s ready to go. We cannot let this theater not continue for generations. “
Willard intends to facilitate the project “by bringing together the right people to make it happen.”
He is currently reaching out to potential donors, as well as political leaders and foundations to inquire about grants.
The Columbiana Cultural Collective will be focusing its efforts with the public in the near future, said Willard. He asks that potential donors contact the group through the tourism office.
Pictured above: The Columbiana Cultural Collective was launched last month and is developing a fundraising plan to purchase the Main Street Theater located in the city circle.“
Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.